When the startling blue clay -- groundbreaking, literally -- was unveiled 11 years ago at the Madrid Open, there was a wide divergence of opinion. Even within a single family.

Venus Williams loved the concept.

“I think the blue clay is a real fashion statement,” said Venus, who was already the owner of a Florida-based interior design company, V Starr Interiors. “I think it’s really in, bright colors are in. I wish I thought of it myself -- I think it’s a good idea.”

Her sister Serena came down on the other side, at least initially.

“It’s interesting that they just did what they wanted,” she said. “I just wish they hadn’t wasted our time.”

This is the 10th Mutua Madrid Open since that event in 2012 (COVID-19 caused a cancellation in 2020). The blue clay that year was -- for better or worse, depending on whom you talked to -- one of the game’s memorable events across 50 years of the WTA Tour.

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Madrid tournament owner Ion Tiriac has never been afraid to be different.

The experiment with blue clay will probably go down as the former tennis player-turned-businessman’s signature “innovation” -- which is saying something. At the time, the Romanian sold it as a way of enhancing television broadcasts. The contrast of the blue background, he said, made it easier to follow the yellow ball. It was also a blatant attempt to raise the event’s brand awareness. This is the same fellow behind the idea of employing high-end models as ball persons.

Tiriac, it must be mentioned, was a pretty fair tennis player himself. He was ranked as high as No.19 in singles and reached the quarterfinals of Roland Garros in 1968. Two year later, he was a doubles champion there. He’s been a player, a coach, a manager, as well as handling today’s Mutua Madrid duties. Today, Tiriac presides over an empire of real estate and financial services that is reportedly worth $2 billion.

Traditionally, clay courts are green (see Charleston) or the European standard red. Madrid took the traditional clay and removed the iron oxide that gave it that classic burnt sienna color. It was then baked into bricks, ground into powder and blue pigment added.

When the players arrived at Park Manzanares, they immediately began complaining that the blue clay was more slippery than traditional clay. Defensive players, particularly, felt their strengths had been compromised.

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This reinvention of the wheel grated on two players in particular.

“Sometimes change is good,” Novak Djokovic said in Monte Carlo ahead of the tournament. “I like innovative and creative people. But on the other hand, it’s going to be the only blue clay-court tournament in the world, first time ever in history. I never played on blue clay. Rafa didn’t. Roger didn’t.

“I’m not really too happy about it.”

Djokovic wound up losing to countryman Janko Tipsarevic in the quarterfinals. After he departed Madrid in the third round at the hands of fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, Rafael Nadal wasn’t pleased, either.

“My thoughts haven’t changed on the concept and organization of this tournament,” Nadal told reporters. “My criticism is not directed at the tournament but at the ATP, which should never have allowed such a change at a tournament of this scale.”

Tiriac couldn’t help but point out that perhaps their unhappiness had nothing to do with the color of the court. Maybe, he said, it was because they lost to lower-ranked players from their own countries.

On the women’s side, it was a truly magnificent field. Among the 16 seeded players were 11 Grand Slam singles champions (and six multi-major winners), not to mention Jelena Jankovic, a former World No.1 and Agnieszka Radwanska, who would rise to a career-high No.2 a few months later.

It was Serena Williams, after a rocky 2011 that saw her miss two of the four Grand Slams, who emerged as the winner. After a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Victoria Azarenka, she seemed to change her view of the blue clay and chastised the men for protesting too much.

“Women are way tougher than men. That’s why we have the babies. You guys could never handle kids,” she said afterward, five years before giving birth to her first child. “We ladies don’t complain, we just do our best. On the WTA, we are real performers, we are not going out there and being weenies.”