michael_emmett

Michael Emmett: “Blue is Beautiful”

Written by: Michael Emmett

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***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs.  He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet.  Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada.  Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s.  Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***

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In case you haven’t seen it yet, brace yourself – the clay courts in Madrid have had a major face lift – the rusty colored clay courts have been dyed to a rich blue to match the colours of hard courts across the world.

Is this ridiculous or innovative?

Is this a good idea or is this messing with tradition? It’s one thing to change the colour of a hard court, but what about changing the colour of a clay court – does this make sense? Many tennis observers and players alike, feel this is going one step too far.

For me, it’s absolutely brilliant. The creator, Ion Tiriac, is a genius. This is going to revive tennis during the 6-week clay court season. The tournament in Madrid has never been on my radar screen. It has never been appointment television for me. This will change this year. My PVR will be working into overtime.

It’s amazing to me how much debate has transpired in the last few days regarding this hot topic. It’s just a colour – it’s not like we’re talking about the ball or the speed of the surface – and once the players get used to the new tint, they will embrace it like they have all the other changes the game has seen.

It’s not a big deal! It’s not like the court has been lengthened to accommodate today’s better athletes. The net size hasn’t been added to as a result of all the heavy topspin. We didn’t go from two serves to one serve in order to decrease the effectiveness of guys like Isner and Raonic.

Some, like Rafael Nadal, have used words like “catastrophic” to describe the new blue. I’m sorry Rafa, but this time you are wrong – the courts are beautiful and the changes are minimal.

It’s a change of colour – end of story. It’s like putting on a red blazer and opting 5 minutes later for a blue blazer. Changing colours is a good thing if it means more viewership worldwide.

Hey, Rafa – “relax.”

Tennis is a sport full of traditions. However, over the years we’ve seen significant modifications to the game that have made it a better sport. The biggest changes have come in the way of surface conversions – the US Open used to be played on grass, now it’s played on hard courts. Similar adjustments have occurred in Melbourne, at the Australian Open. The powers that be at Wimbledon have used paint to make their lawns greener and they have slowed down the courts with different cutting methods. Wimbledon is not what it used to be in terms of speed and power. What about the tie-breaker? This was a major innovation that has totally changed the game, dating all the way back to 1965.

When making decisions like this – it always comes down to one key question – “How can we make it better for the television audience?” Sports and their commissioners are always looking to improve their broadcasts and cater to the folks watching from home. This is where the BIG money is, and it is a key ingredient in this puzzle. If the blue court makes it a better viewing product from a television perspective, then it must be deemed a successful venture. I’m sorry – I don’t care what the players think!

The European clay court season has always been an arduous one for the television viewers because of the difficulty seeing the yellow tennis ball on the rusted red clay courts. At times, on standard definition television, it has been near impossible to pick up the ball during a lengthy exchange. And without good replays, sometimes we are left wondering who won the point!

Tiriac – the former coach of Guillermo Villas, and now a big-time tennis promoter – is the mastermind behind the blue courts and has been working on the project for almost two years. In hindsight, with the US Open and Australian Open going blue, it wasn’t a move that is that far-fetched. All he did was connect the dots. Television ratings have skyrocketed in recent years and changing to a blue court is definitely a factor. If you can’t see the ball, you can’t enjoy the sport.

Tiriac has the reputation of being an nonconformist, but he had the foresight to utilize a scientific company called the Technological Institute of Optic Colour and Professional Image (AIDO) to study the contrast issue, and the agency determined that spectators courtside, as well as those watching on LCD and LED television screens, had a “higher” and “more favorable” contrast with blue clay.

Back in the mid 90’s, Fox Television tried to improve the quality of their hockey broadcast by making the puck more visible. Fox Track (colloquially also called “the glow puck”) was a specialized ice hockey puck with internal electronics that allowed its position to be tracked along the ice surface. It was designed for NHL telecasts on the Fox television network. Primarily, it was used to visually highlight the puck on-screen and display a trail when the puck was moving rapidly.

Boise State – a traditional top-10 college football team – has taken their field and gone from the conventional green astro-turf to a blue field that for a period of time had the football community hopping mad. But now, the decision to go blue appears to be embraced. Seeing games played on the blue turf in Boise, Idaho is natural and normal.

One day, in the not too distant future, we will be saying the same things about the courts in Madrid.

Keep in mind, the same tournaments used to use white tennis balls. Change is good and it has to continue if tennis is going to be recognized as a major sport. I think Mr. Tiriac was bang on with this one, and I celebrate his fearlessness and fortitude on this controversial subject. I say out with the ‘old’ and in with the ‘new’ – or should that be blue?

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