Madrid Open, the temporary magic of Federer

TDR SPORTS CORNER

by Matthias Krug

There will always be Federer. That was the headline of one of the local newspapers as the later rounds began, when the favourites started falling by the wayside. First Nadal in the third round, then Djokovic, a round later, as he skidded out of the tournament losing to his countryman Janko Tipsarevic. The top two players were thus out of the running, amidst gasps of surprise and smiles of disbelief. Fernando Verdasco had undone Nadal’s hard-running game, only to lose the following day in straight sets to the later finalist, Thomas Berdych.

And off to some start the underdog went in the final, taking the first set with a classy performance of power tennis to the score of 6-3.

On the other side of the net as the packed Caja Magica Stadium felt the effects of a heated Sunday, was Roger. Always Federer. Right at the beginning of the second set the new world number 2 asserted his own precision game and went up a break, eventually winning the second set 7-5.

The third set, another monumental struggle between two inspired players, went the Swiss maestro’s way too, by the same score line. The blue clay courts of Madrid had their first champion. Three titles in this tournament. And there were his two twin daughters to celebrate with their father. The fans in Madrid were delighted too, despite the absence, for once, of Nadal in the final.

The Swiss magician’s popularity in Madrid is based on two factors; one being is unquestionable status as a living legend in the world of tennis, and sports in general, the other an increasing awareness that Federer will not come back eternally to the blue courts of the capital city. Not that he has threatened to boycott the tournament if the colour of clay did not change, as Nadal and Djokovic did after their respective losses. Rather, at 31 years, the age of retirement is slowly creeping up.

It is then a very temporary magic which the spectators witnessed as Federer marched through his matches after a difficult opening round. He dispatched Gasquet with style, then Ferrer with ease, and in the semifinals marched through majestically against Tipsarevic.

Just a day earlier Guardiola’s era as the coach of Barcelona had ended in La Liga, reminding sports fans of the temporary nature of success. But Federer promised to be back next year. It will be interesting to see whether Nadal and Djokovic will be back too, to challenge the magic racket of Roger Federer.

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TDR Sports Corner: Madrid Open, the early rounds blues

By Matthias Krug

The best tennis players in the world are back in town, but some of them have the blues.

Everything is the same as every year around the time when the city begins to feel the heat of approaching summer. Only this year there is a new surface. Instead of red clay, it is now blue clay. And Fernando Verdasco, the left-hander who is a Madrid native, has just fallen down to kiss the blue specks of sand. They are his lucky charm, it seems.

The surprise of the early rounds has just been wrapped up and presented to the disbelieving public. The Spaniard has beaten none other than Rafael Nadal, in a three set epic struggle: 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. After 13 straight attempts without a single victory against Nadal. And with Nadal serving twice for the match at 5-2 in the third. Classic miracle stuff. And yet in the press conference after the game, the colour of the court takes on a rather controversial importance.

Nadal won’t return to play in Madrid next year if the court does not change back to the original red which clay usually is associated with. What is in a colour? Already, World Number 1 Novak Djokovic had complained after he struggled in his opening day victory, dropping the second set, that he felt as though he were skating on ice.

Then came Roger. The majestic Swiss player is welcomed in Madrid as one of our own. But he too struggled in his first encounter – his first all season on clay indeed. On blue clay too. An epic three set match was won only at the very last moment, in the tie-break of the third. His opponent, the big-serving and highly promising Canadian youngster Raonic, certainly pushed the Swiss legend to the limit.

But what of the blue clay? Was it to blame for the difficulties of the top players? The top women on the circuit equally had to struggle. Ana Ivanovic, the Serbian crowd favourite and former French Open champion, took a promising 4-1 lead in her encounter against World Number One Azarenka, but then lost the next five games and went down in a frustrating double 6-4.

Meanwhile out on court 3, a classic first round encounter took place between the Brazilian Belucci, a major surprise at last year’s tournament in reaching the semifinals, and Richard Gasquet. The Frenchman edged it in three delightfully hard-fought sets, sending a scorching backhand winner across the court to win it in the tie-break. Small details decided the match. Was the new surface among them?

The next match the French player had another interesting task: Roger Federer. This time it was a clear matter: 6-3, 6-2 for a Federer who seems to be taking a liking to the new surface.

So what of the debate? Some love it, even bend down to kiss it. Others won’t come back again if it stays this way. Visually, it is certainly a delight for spectators, many of whom have commented on the refreshing sight of blue clay. ‘It looks nice,’ said one fan on Thursday, ‘but I don’t know how nice it is for the players.’

Journalists too can only speculate. Until Saturday. That is the day the traditional tennis tournament for the gathered journalists takes place. Then I’ll be able to tell you more about how it feels to play on the new clay. By Saturday, only a handful of players will remain in the competition. Of those, watch out for Del Potro, the Argentine US Open champion who looks to be in fine form.

And look at those socks. Any player on clay will remember coming home with red socks. Now they are blue. Is that the only difference? Is it all in a colour? Is the surface really more slippery, as some players suggest? Is it a matter of changing a rigid mindset? Can we imagine red grass at Wimbledon? Or purple grass? What about blue grass?

Have your say in May

May is here. Have your say and change something small. Start something big.

The Doha Review continues to grow and expand readership into new countries and regions of the globe. Creativity is indeed a global concern, especially in times of economic woes for families with limited means of financial jumps over the hurdles being thrust in their way. Creative solutions to problems are needed.

The TDR photography featured this month included a striking series from the General Strike in Spain. There was also a masterful, humorous fiction piece on rain-forest conservation. And a finely written contribution on being washed up on a tropical island.

What The Doha Review continues to do is to send out bottles of brilliant creativity, breakable as they might be, to like-minded individuals around the world. It is up to you to open them and read what is written on the paper inside.