One of the indicators of the stature of a tournament is the memories it is capable of generating, for itself or for the tennis world as a whole. For example, the times when its courts have witnessed firsts, moments when something happens that goes down in history. The Mutua Madrid Open, throughout its 16 years, has generated plenty of these memories, firsts, hidden stories, trends and epic moments.
Complete surprises, not many, because it is true that in its men’s competition the Mutua belongs to the number ones. But it was the women’s draw that threw up the first big upset when Aravane Rezai took the title, leaving a collection of number ones in her wake; Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic and Venus Williams.
Firsts; plenty of them, such as when a kid stepped onto the court over a decade ago, a promising young junior, to put it more technically, with a seventies haircut and a sleeveless t-shirt. He made the court look small but eventually lost to Álex Corretja.
And when, a little earlier, the upcoming Roger Federer saw off Marcelo Ríos, and shortly afterwards it became a rivalry between two world number ones, the newcomer and the recently dethroned. And that time when Novak Djokovic, who in 2006 was a lowly seed, defeated Gasquet in the first round; it was the first chapter of a long story that is still yet to reach its conclusion. Also in 2014 when a young 21 year old called Dominic Thiem took out the Australian Open champion, Wawrinka, before he too broke into the world’s top ten.
Epic moments, like that match that started early in the afternoon between the player known to everyone as Rafa Nadal – the kid with the long hair – and an aspiring great called Novak Djokovic, which ended as night was drawing in, after four hours and three minutes of battle, and which is now remembered as the longest three-set match in history. Or the semi-final played between David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori; the Japanese player needed no fewer than ten match points to finally see off the stubborn Javea native.
And new trends, plenty of them: the introduction of the model ballboys (and girls), which was later copied in abundance. The introduction of the blue dye to the clay, whose story is yet to be continued, and the introduction this year of Tie Break Tens, the tiebreak tournament for the stars, which may hint at a possible future evolution of the game, or at least provide an option at a time of flux.
So, when we take our seats in the Caja Mágica and hear the word ‘play’, indicating the start of the match, we would do well to be alert and try and burn everything we see into our memories; the players on court could be making history. In capital letters. And we will be able tell people what we witnessed.
*Fernando Carreño is a journalist for the MARCA newspaper