The world's two best players may not be there, but spectators at future Madrid Masters tournaments will at least be guaranteed some dazzling tennis.
Not content with installing courts laid with bright blue clay, on which Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal say they would refuse to play next year, the event's owner yesterday revealed plans to play with glowing balls. "We're thinking fluorescent green or fluorescent orange, which hold light better and work better in contrast to blue clay," Ion Tiriac said.
On a day when a disgruntled Djokovic followed Nadal out of the tournament, beaten 7-6, 6-3 by Janko Tipsarevic, Tiriac gave no indication that he had any intention of reverting to red clay, which the leading two men insist he must do if they are to return. The Association of Tennis Professionals sanctioned the change of surface on condition that it would be reviewed after the first year.
A former player who has become a hugely successful businessman, Tiriac says the blue clay helps spectators and players to see the ball more easily. However, players have complained that the surface is slippery.
Tiriac, whose other innovations have included using models as ball girls, apologised for the condition of the courts but said it was nothing to do with their colour. He said the problem was that the courts had been pressed too hard, preventing the clay from penetrating the hard base.
"We are working daily to fix that and things are getting better," he said. "I don't think any player can complain about the colour. It's better for TV, the spectators and the players. And tell me one sport that hasn't had to change in the last 20 years. We fight for that hour of television and that money from the sponsors."
Djokovic, however, was adamant. "There is no discussion in my eyes, it's very simple – no blue clay for me," he said. "I want to forget this week as soon as possible and move on to real clay courts." Players who like to slide into their shots, including Nadal and Djokovic, have felt particularly ill at ease on the surface. Nadal's uncle and coach, Toni, revealed that after a practice session last week he had advised his nephew to pull out of the tournament before it began.
"The fact that the ATP gave permission for this tournament is an outrage," he said. "One of the highlights of Rafa's year is playing in Madrid and what has happened is that this event puts the Spanish players, who are more [traditional] clay-court players, at a disadvantage."
Tipsarevic will face Roger Federer in today's semi-finals after the 30-year-old Swiss beat David Ferrer 6-4, 6-4. In the other half of the draw Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych will meet following straight-sets wins over Alexandr Dolgopolov and Fernando Verdasco respectively.
Serena Williams reached the semi-finals of the women's tournament by recording her seventh successive victory over Maria Sharapova. Williams won 6-1, 6-3 and now faces the Czech Republic's Lucie Hradecka. Victoria Azarenka, the world No 1, will meet Agnieszka Radwanska, having already beaten the Pole five times this year.