Sunday, April 5, 2015

Could Miami become a clay-court event?

During the coverage of the Miami Open over the past week, Darren Cahill and Brad Gilbert discussed the idea of switching from Laycold Hard court to Har-Tru's clay. The plan is to make Miami the first event of the clay-court season, played on green clay, which is popular in the United States, but almost never used elsewhere. They would also rename the tournament U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship, which is currently the name of the tournament in Houston that immediately follows the tournament in Miami.

To be clear, this is only the idea of fans and commentators, but the tournament directors have not said anything to suggest that this change could happen. However, the idea of making such a drastic change to the tournament isn't as crazy as it sounds, since the tournament certainly has its fair share of issues.

Over the last four years, the tournament has had three different names as a result of major changes in sponsors, going from the Sony Ericsson Open to the Sony Open to the Miami Open presented by Ita├║. Meanwhile, Roger Federer has begun to skip the tournament to get ready for the clay season. In total, seven players that would have been seeded ended up skipping the tournament for various reasons.

The biggest problem though is that the tournament in Miami is stuck under the shadow of Indian Wells. The two tournaments are both hard-court Masters 1000 (ATP) and Premier Mandatory (WTA) in the United States. They are both 96-player draws spread out over two weeks, meaning players get days off in between matches.

It is impossible not to make the comparison between Indian Wells, which wins all the awards and Miami, which is the only mandatory event that Federer regularly skips. And Matt Johnson made the comparison perfectly.

Here are the list of reasons for and against the change

Pros:

1. It would balances the schedule. As it stands right now, of the 14 major tournaments on the ATP (4 slams, 9 masters, 1 year-end final), nine of the tournaments are played on hard courts, four on clay courts, and just one is on grass. If there were nine clay court events and only four hard court events on the ATP World Tour, Rafael Nadal would have spent every healthy week of his career as the No. 1 player in the world. Having more events on clay would make it harder for hard-court specialists to ruin seedings at clay-court events, while allowing players who prefer clay an extra chance to get big ranking points.

2. It would get the tournament out of Indian Wells shadow. If Miami wants to stop being compared to Indian Wells, making it a clay event would make those comparisons less frequent. The two events could finally be seen as two separate events instead of always being called the Indian Wells-Miami double.

3. Gives advantage to Hispanic tennis players. It's no secret that Hispanic tennis players prefer to play on clay almost unanimously. It's also no secret that the fans in Miami want to see those players do better. Players from Latin American countries have always received great support from the crowds in Miami. The better those players perform in Miami, the more the fans get involved, resulting in a more successful tournament.

Cons:

1. It's a joint tournament. Part of the idea is to steal the name of the tournament in Houston, which is "U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship." The issue with that is pretty obvious. Women also play at this tournament. However, the answer isn't as simple as just dropping the "Men's" part. The women's version was abolished by the USTA back in 1986.

2. Name would ostracize the fan-base. As mentioned, the fans who attend Miami are largely Hispanic. One of the few things that separates Miami from Indian Wells is the identity it has developed as a Latin American event, and the biggest one on both the ATP and WTA. However, including the initials U.S. in the name really kills any chance of the tournament growing in that identity. Miami is a place with great diversity, and making it sound like it is limited to the United States would not help grow the fan-base.

3. The changes would hurt Indian Wells and Houston. If Miami were switched to a clay tournament, Indian Wells would suddenly become the only big hard court event after the Australian Open. There is already a series of clay tournaments going on in February, so it would become awfully tempting for the top players to start preparing for clay right after the Australian Open and simply skipping Indian Wells like Federer is already doing in Miami.

As for Houston, Miami would be completely stealing their thunder. Not only would Houston lose its name, it would lose its status as the first stop on the clay-court season. If a mandatory tournament like Miami is being overshadowed by Indian Wells, how much worse would the problem be for a 250 like Houston. Casablanca is already having major issues drawing top players with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez getting the top seed. Houston would have the same issue potentially.

4. Green clay is not real clay. If you thought the blue clay experiment was a disaster, imagine trying to make Rafael Nadal play on green clay. Even if the clay was painted red like it was in San Diego last year for the Davis Cup tie, the way it plays is exactly the same. If the Har-Tru logo is anywhere on the court, the top players will have a problem with it. Har-Tru is now very popular on the American clay court challenger events, but many of the top players have never even stepped on a Har-Tru court. Now, imagine how they will react when such an important tournament is played on that surface.

My Opinion: Something certainly has to change. Miami has a lot of problems, and I have no doubt that people who have actually been to the tournament could point out a host of other problems. However, I think switching the clay would only create new problems. If they do switch to clay, it would have to be a true brick-dust clay to get the top players on board with the idea.

That would solve a few of the problems, but only bring up new ones. Such a quick transition from hard courts to clay courts will not be popular. The damage it would do to the tour as a whole would just be too much to justify solving the problems the tournament in Miami currently faces. 

2 comments:

  1. This was really a nice post. I am glad that you shared such informative post with us. Miami is very pretty place. It is an exotic location where I love to spend my holidays there. But on this Halloween day I have planned to host the party at one of local party halls in Bay area. Feeling so excited!

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