The new Masters 1000 series tournament in Madrid should be taking the form of a popular and prodigious event. Yet it seems that many fundamental elements still need maturing and developing, even as the important tournament is in full swing.
Varying shades of slate, concrete and asphalt still characterize the principal image. Players are raising complaints over the consistency and texture of the clay courts.
Ion Tiriac, the developer and ardent supporter of this event, is a businessman, well-known for his uncompromising and ruthless nature. Sentimentality is an unknown emotion. His mighty mustache and tinted glasses, seemingly relics from the 1980s, hide any emotional impulses from the outside world.
However he has created one of the most delicate and fiercely contested matters in recent tennis history: the loss of the Hamburg Rothenbaum Masters tournament to make way for the new Spanish clay spectacle.
The notions that Tiriac ‘stole and ruined’ the Hamburg event, he vehemently denies. Nevertheless it is true that the conditions surrounding the downgrading of the admired German Masters event were controversial and somewhat mysterious for the majority of tennis spectators.
The headlines and media coverage may have indeed been too hostile towards the Romanian last year; yet there is no doubt that Tiriac unleashed one of the most powerful and influential campaigns on ATP tour officials and the tennis scene in order to make his Spanish vision a reality—at the expense of the traditional Hamburg event.
Thanks to his relentless campaigning, the Madrid Masters 1000 event has been changed from an indoor, hard court tournament that is played in late Autumn, towards the end of the tiring tennis season, to an open air, joint clay-court men’s and women’s event in May, in the heart of the tennis year.
Tiriac wants this tournament to be a huge event—supposedly even to rival the Grand Slams—and to form one of the perfect stages to demonstrate Madrid’s capabilities to hold the 2016 Olympic Games.
‘Today, Madrid is what Germany was in the 1980s,’ Tiriac argues, somewhat pointedly.
With Tiriac generating more and more funding, it became possible for the world-renowned French architect Dominique Perrault to design the 165,000 square-meter development, at the heart of which would be the ‘Caja Magica’, or Magic Box.
But the magic is yet to materialise in the Box or the three additional outside courts; so far the premiere event is showcasing only sterile steel constructions punctuated with hard lines and linear shadows.
The intimate, traditional and gregarious atmosphere of a Masters Series event seems to be missing. The stands are empty, exposing the harsh structures further.
What a difference from the long-standing Rome Masters 1000 tournament a fortnight ago, where the atmosphere was visibly amiable and the stands were packed to the rafters.
‘I have certainly seen better’, commented Federer. ‘Even the practice courts aren’t that great and on Manolo Santana Centre Court there are many bad bounces. Much of the complex needs improving’.
The courts in the Magic Box were in optimal condition for play only ten days before the start of the tournament, according to organisers. One of the five practice courts has taken the true shape of Tiriac’s dream—he wants all courts to be made of blue clay—but as far as the players are concerned, the court is just for show.
Nadal, Federer and others have clearly stated: blue clay courts have no chance. For now, despite all attempts at its integration, the court remains abandoned.
Neither have spectators rushed to endorse the tournament or ‘TennisTainment’, as it is marketed by Madrid organisers. Of course, opinions could change, perhaps even by the end of this frenetic first week.
Nonetheless, without the blessing of players and approval from viewers, it appears that there are many kinks for businessman Tiriac to iron out before next year.
(Published on Bleacher Report; May 14th, 2009)