Among all the events that make up the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 series, Madrid has earned a somewhat complicated and controversial reputation. Schedule and surface changes make up only part of this event’s history that dates back to 2002.
After being moved from its former location in Stuttgart, Germany, the new tournament was reborn in 2002 as an indoor hard court event played at the Madrid Arena. It got off to a rather disappointing initial conclusion when Andre Agassi won the finals by walkover against Jiri Novak.
Until 2009, the event had a new champion each year. Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero and then later Rafael Nadal pleased the locals by winning the title in 2003 and 2005 respectively. Nadal was forced to battle in five sets against Ivan Ljubicic when Masters finals were still contested by best three out of five sets.
Roger Federer claimed the title in 2006 over Fernando Gonzalez. The Swiss star lost in the finals to David Nalbandian in 2007 and then Andy Murray won it all in 2008 over Gilles Simon of France.
But it was in 2009 that the event entered a new phase that many tennis fans still view as controversial. The ATP decided to rebrand the then ATP Masters Series into the new ATP World Tour Masters 1000 series. As part of the new initiative, Madrid was moved up in the season calendar to May and converted into an outdoor clay court event. This change brought about by organizers was in hopes of turning the event into the premier lead up clay court tournament before Roland Garros. But with Madrid’s altitude playing a factor at the event, some took the view that Rome, now taking place the following week, as being perhaps the best pre-French Open tournament in terms of getting a glimpse as to who will win in Paris.
The recently built “La Caja Magica” or Manzanares Park Tennis Center became the new site of the now renamed Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open. The new arena would become the scene of one of the most intense matches of the entire 2009 season when Rafael Nadal faced off against Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. At that time, it became their closest battle yet on clay with Nadal prevailing in over three hours 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-5(9).
Roger Federer won the title in the finals over a still weary Nadal 6-4, 6-4 to earn his first title of the year. Some tennis watchers feel that Nadal’s long battle against Djokovic in the semis may have contributed to his later surprise defeat at the hands of Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the French Open.
That same year, Madrid became a combined ATP/WTA event. In the women’s final, Dinara Safina defeated Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-4.
Despite the stunning surroundings of the “La Caja Magica”, many ATP and WTA players were vocal in the complaints about the event, most with regards to the construction of the courts. Many pros felt that the underlying foundation of the courts were not properly laid down leading to an increase in the potential for foot and ankle injuries.
2010 saw Rafael Nadal win the men’s title for the first time since 2005 when he beat Djokovic in the finals. On the women’s side, France’s Aravane Rezai surprised everyone by not only getting to the finals, but then beating Venus Williams to win her biggest career title. In 2011, Djokovic beat Nadal for the first time in a clay court final to win the Madrid title while Petra Kvitova claimed the women’s title. The event was now just known as the Mutua Madrid Open.
Tournament owner Ion Tiriac courted more controversy in 2012 when he approved the use of blue clay on all courts at the event. Tiriac’s reasoning was not only would it make the tournament more unique as being the first to use such a color but that it would help television viewers see the ball better on their screens.
Though it was proven that blue clay and red clay have the same consistency, players largely complained about the color switch and about the under surface of the courts themselves saying it made the courts too slippery to play on. Both Djokovic and Nadal lost early at the tournament and later said that they would reconsider competing in Madrid the next year if the blue clay was used again.
With Djokovic and Nadal gone, Roger Federer went on to win the title in a tight three set final against Tomas Berdych. In the women’s final, Serena Williams cruised in straight sets against Victoria Azarenka.
Due to pressure from both the ATP and WTA tours, Tiriac and tournament organizers relented on the blue clay and permitted the return of red clay for the 2013 event.
The top seeds for the 2013 Mutua Madrid Open will be Novak Djokovic on the men’s side and Serena Williams on the women’s side.