MADRID — Blue clay courts at the Madrid Masters hold no fears for former champion Roger Federer, with the confident Swiss insisting on Sunday that he will be ready for any conditions when he begins play in the second round.
Federer, the third seed and 2009 champion, who beat Rafael Nadal to lift that title, has had two days of training on the experimental — and controversial — blue courts laid down at the Caja Magica.
Game day and practice sessions are two completely different situations, but the Swiss is not worried about what he might find in the heat of battle on the unorthodox surface.
“I’ve played on it for two days, but not on centre court,” said Federer, back on the ATP Tour after more than five weeks of holiday rest and training.
“It feels a bit different than regular clay. Maybe it’s the visual aspect. It’s been cool and rainy so far here. It will be interesting to see how it is in hot and nice weather.
“There is still some waiting to do and matches are quite a bit different than practices. I have to wait for my match to come around to give a proper opinion.”
Federer will play against the winner from a high-voltage opening-round tie between Argentine hard-man David Nalbandian and Canadian serving sensation Milos Raonic.
The Swiss said that the jury is still out on the blue-clay plan put into action by the tournament’s billionaire impresario Ion Tiriac, the man who brought catwalk models onto court as ball-girls in another experiment that has paid public relations dividends for the ATP-WTA Masters 1000.
Nadal, by contrast, has been complaining for weeks about the initiative, blaming the ATP for allowing its former CEO Adam Helfant to quietly approve the plan without consulting the board.
The Spaniard has been playing the tennis tradition card — usually the one dealt by Federer on most issues — by lamenting the change in colour.
“This is an innovation and every innovation has a risk,” Nadal said on Sunday. “The courts are there and we have to adapt to them — me also.
“This is about history. The earth is red, not blue. Tennis is not only about showbusiness. There are more things to appreciate — history and tradition.
“Some symbolic things in the world should be preserved.”
Federer said that judgement on the clay has yet to be made.
“Does the younger generation need blue clay in order to get excited about tennis?” asked the 30-year-old world number three. “I don’t know as I’ve not spoken to thousands and thousands of kids about it.
“We’ll soon hear the echoes from this week from players, fans and media. A close look will be taken once this is done so that a decision can be made for the next years after this test of the blue clay.”
The 16-time Grand Slam champion who won six of eight events from late 2011 through to Indian Wells in mid-March, is confident about his form heading into the pre-French Open event in Madrid.
“I feel good about my chances of playing well over the next few months,” he said.
“But I’m coming back onto clay in the home of Rafa, who has been so dominant on this surface for so many years.
“I have a big task ahead of me. But my focus is to get through my tough draw and get on a roll again. I’m happy and excited to be playing again.
“I had a long time off, but I needed it because I’ve played so much recently. We’ve got a lot on our plates coming up so I want to be fresh in the mind and with the body to aim for the big goals that I have.”