The Madrid Masters switched from an indoor surface to outdoor clay in 2009, offering an excellent chance for the attacking players to make the regular clay-courters suffer on one of the fastest courts of that kind at Caja Magica. In 2012, Madrid became the event with what has probably been the strangest surface of all time after the organizers installed blue clay, a unique surface unseen in the world of tennis before! Seeking a better contrast of the yellow ball for the TV viewers in comparison to the traditional red-orange clay and identity and uniqueness, they stole the show in the first part of the season, with the entire tennis world speaking about this. Still, there was one teeny-tiny problem in the entire story, as the players hated the new surface from the very first contact with it! The names like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal sent a clear message they would not be there in 2013 if the surface doesn’t get back to a regular clay!
Despite the exact earthen origins as standard clay, the iron oxide had been removed from the earth to change color from red to white, and when the white bricks were crumbled into a powder, the blue pigment was added to get that unique color. Color more or less, the biggest problem was the fact it was so slippery that the players could barely move from one side to another, making it almost impossible to get back into a neutral position in the middle of the court and chase balls on the hard and powdery surface. A month later, an ATP executive chairman and president, Brad Drewett, announced that blue clay will not stay in the calendar, urging the organizers to return the traditional red clay for the following year’s edition. That closed this gripping saga, but our focus is on the only player who lifted the trophy on blue clay, as Roger Federer came from a set down to overcome Tomas Berdych 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 in the final match that lasted two hours and 38 minutes.
Nadal lost in the third round while Djokovic fell to a compatriot Janko Tipsarevic in the quarters, with everything coming down to Roger and Tomas, two attacking players who had shown the most that week. The outcome could have been much different, as Roger barely escaped defeat against Milos Raonic in the second round, winning four points less than Canadian and saving seven out of eight break chances to prevail in the final set tie break. The Swiss played better after that to set the title clash, beating Tomas for the 11th time in 15 encounters after firing 13 aces and saving six out of nine break points. Federer overpowered his opponent in tight closures of sets two and three to write history and become the champion on this unique surface, never to be seen on the Tour again. Berdych won just two points less than Roger and repelled seven out of 11 break opportunities, fighting for every point but collapsing after dropping serve in the 12th game of sets two and three to end on the losing side.
A backhand return winner gave Tomas a break of serve in game two for a perfect start, holding at love in the next one to open a handy 3-0 lead. The Czech was in a great rhythm, firing four winners to bring the fifth game home and producing something similar two games later to forge a 5-2 gap after only 25 minutes. Roger was yet to find his strokes, having to play against two set points on serve in game eight, fending them off with powerful serves that got him out of trouble and kept in the set for at least one more game. Despite serving at 42%, Tomas sailed through his service games and closed the set with a service winner in game nine after 36 minutes, hurling 14 winners and just two unforced errors to outplay the great rival completely. Roger finally found the range in the second set’s second game, breaking Tomas with a forehand winner to move ahead and wrapping up the next one in 68 seconds to cement the break and build confidence.
Roger Federer claimed the title on unique blue clay in Madrid 2012.
Berdych earned a break chance in game five, denied by an ace from Roger, who also wasted his opportunity when Tomas landed an ace a few minutes later, reducing the deficit to 4-2. Serving for the set at 5-3, Federer got broken when Berdych punched a forehand down the line winner, returning to the positive side of the scoreboard and maintaining a chance to close the match in straight sets and win the title. The Czech held in game ten to level the score at 5-5, but Roger remained focused, blasting four service winners and forcing Tomas to serve for staying in the set. A return winner gave Federer set points (the ball just slid when it hit the ground), converting the first after a costly double fault from the Czech to take the set 7-5 and enter the decider as the favorite. Roger controlled the pace now, as Tomas started to make more errors, unable to stay on the level from the opening set, something we could expect from him.
One of the crucial moments occurred in the decider’s opening game when Federer repelled two break chances to avoid an early setback and chasing the result. He was 30-0 down in game three as well, and Berdych fired a beautiful forehand crosscourt winner to gain a break chance, only to experience three service winners from Roger, who got out of jail and sent the pressure to the other side of the net. Tomas held in game four and had another small return opportunity in the game that followed, only to lose four points in a row and blow another chance of putting Roger under stress.
Federer created three break points at 4-3, denied by three service winners from the Czech, who spoiled everything with a double fault to drop serve and allow Roger to serve for the title. Berdych was there to compete, making one more push to break back after a deep return, finally taking advantage of Roger’s unreliable serves to extend the encounter and title dreams. They both held with ease in the next two games, and Berdych served to propel the match into a deciding tie break at 5-6, facing three match points after solid returns from Roger, who gave his best to seal the deal before the risky tie break. Eventually, the Swiss seized the fourth match point when Tomas netted a forehand, lifting the trophy and writing history books as the first and only champion on blue clay.