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 at Caja Magica. In 2012, Madrid became the event with what had 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, alongside 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 story, as the players hated the new surface from their 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 did not get back to a regular clay! Despite the exact earthen origins as standard clay, the iron oxide had been removed to change color from red to white.
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 that 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 would not stay on the calendar, urging the organizers to return the traditional red clay for the following edition. That closed this saga, but our focus is on the only player who lifted the trophy on blue clay. 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. Everything came down to Roger and Tomas, two attacking players who had shown the most that week. The outcome could have been different.
Roger barely escaped defeat against Milos Raonic in the second round, winning four points less than the Canadian and saving seven out of eight break chances to prevail in the final set tie break. After that, the Swiss played better to set the title clash and beat 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 seen on the Tour again. Berdych won just two points less than Federer 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 the opener’s game two for a perfect start. He held at love in the next one to open a handy 3-0 lead. The Czech was in a great rhythm, and he fired four winners to bring the fifth game home and produce something similar two games later to forge a 5-2 gap after only 25 minutes. Roger was yet to find his strokes, playing against two set points on serve in game eight and fending them off with powerful serves that got him out of trouble and kept him in the set. 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. In the second set’s second game, Roger finally found the range and broke Tomas with a forehand winner to move ahead. He wrapped 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 Federer. The Swiss wasted his opportunity when Tomas landed an ace a few minutes later to reduce 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. The Czech held in game ten to level the score at 5-5, but Roger remained focused. He blasted four service winners and forced Tomas to serve to stay in the set. A return winner gave Federer set points (the ball just slid after hitting the ground). He converted 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. He was 30-0 down in game three as well, and Berdych fired a beautiful forehand crosscourt winner to gain a break chance. Roger got out of jail with three service winners and sent the pressure to the other side. 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.
Still, Tomas 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 and finally take advantage of Roger’s unreliable serves to extend the encounter. 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. He faced three match points after Roger’s solid returns and saved them all to extend the drama. 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.