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The Early Lead
Posted at 03:09 PM ET, 05/11/2012

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal lose early in Madrid, threaten to boycott tournament over blue clay


Rafael Nadal did not like the new blue surface in Madrid. (Andres Kudacki - AP)
The top two men’s tennis players in the world are out at the Madrid Open one year after clashing in a classic final.

On Thursday, Rafael Nadal suffered a rare defeat on his favorite surface, losing to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, in the round-of-16.

And Friday, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic followed him out of the field in a stunning straight-set quarterfinal loss to seventh-seeded Janko Tipsarevic, 7-6 (2), 6-3.

After his match, Nadal was quick to criticize the controversial new surface at the tournament — a blue clay that players have called slippery and inferior to the red clay of Roland Garros and other events. Nadal said if tournament officials do not change the surface, he will not compete next spring.

“They are saying it's exactly the same as the red clay, which is not true because there is a big difference,” Nadal said. “You are tripping and slipping and sliding all the time and winner will be the one who doesn't get hurt until the end of the week because a lot of players fell down. Generally it's a new experience and the way it looks this year hopefully the last experience.”

The round-of-16 setback ended a string of 22 consecutive clay court victories over 52 weeks for Nadal and cost him the chance to build momentum in the lead-up to the French Open.

“This surface destabilizes the game. It is a completely different game and I don’t want to take risks.”


Djokovic and others had trouble with their footing on the unfamiliar surface. (Javier Soriano - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Djokovic echoed that sentiment after a difficult second-round match.

“I hit five balls throughout the whole match,” said Djokovic, who fell to 27-4 on the year. “Everything else I was just trying to put the ball in the court so just rely on my serve and getting some points eventually from his unforced errors.

“For me that’s not tennis. Either I come up with the football shoes or I invite Chuck Norris to advise me on how I should play on this court.”

But the threats and complaints have yet to achieve their desired effect.

“It’s a pity,” tournament promoter Ion Tiriac said. “I would be very sad if they did not play.”

Over the last two years, a number of the sport’s top players — Nadal and Djokovic in particular — have voiced their frustration over the lack of player input in the grueling tournament calendar. Add flashy playing surfaces chosen without player consent to the growing list of gripes.

For Verdasco, the victory snapped a string of 13 consecutive defeats to Nadal. But his run ended Friday when he fell in straight sets to sixth-seeded Thomas Berdych.

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Nadal upset by Verdasco; says he won’t return if blue clay remains

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By  |  03:09 PM ET, 05/11/2012

 
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