Friday, June 29, 2012

The Color of Tennis

When it comes to thinking about color the first thing to pop in to your mind is generally not sports. Sure there are team colors, home and away,  there are new architectural venues for viewing, but there haven't been many color innovations coming out of the functional design of sports environments in recent years. This year at the Madrid Open, a professional tennis event held annually in Madrid, Spain, there was a big color shake up. For non-tennis fans out there a bit of back story.

Preparing the lawn in Court #1. RATC Wimbledon, London, UK byJorge Royan via WikiMedia
While most American and British tennis courts are grass or green acrylic hard courts, in Continental Europe they play on clay.

The red clay court of the French Open via Tennis5
The richly colored "clay" is actually not made of natural clay but instead consists of crushed shale, stone, or brick. After the powder is spread over the court it has to be a packed down into a level surface.

Aaron Spencer's striking photograph of Pascal Courel, who used to maintain the courts for the French Open, working on one of the rare American clay courts. 
So where is the color scandal you are asking? This year in Madrid they tried out a brand new color: blue. As reported by PRI's The World the color is what Canadian player, Milos Raonic, calls it “smurf blue”. From Wikipedia: "Ion Ţiriac, the owner of the Madrid Masters states  that since 2009 they have been a clay court tournament.   This year he  proposed a new color of blue clay for all the courts, on the grounds that it would supposedly be better visually, especially for viewers on television."

The blue clay surface at the Madrid Open by A. Martinez via The New York Times
"Critics suggested that the adaptation of blue color is a nod to the titular sponsor of the tournament, the Spanish insurance giant Mutua Madrileña. ... In 2009 one of the outer tennis courts had already been made of the new surface for the players to test it. Manuel Santana, the Open's current director, has assured that aside from the colour, the surface keeps the same properties as the traditional red clay." Many big name players like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are against the change as well.

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic removes blue sand from his tennis shoes with his racket during his Madrid Masters by Juan Carlos Hidalgo
The New York Times reports Nadal and Djokovic claim that the new courts play differently, throw off the rhythm of the players, and are an unnecessary innovation fixing something that wasn't broken. Supporters say that visibility of the ball against the court is actually improved by 20 or more percent. But unfortunately the beautiful blue courts will not be back next year. The Jakarta Post reported that the Association of Tennis Professional, the people who regulate these things, officially disallowed the use of the new blue clay.

We decided to look into color theory to see the statistics on blue.  The visibility rating of blue in daylight is fifth, with red, orange, yellow and green ranking above of it.  In 1976, researchers, Porter and Mikellides, conducted an Estimation of Time study.  Two audiences were seated for twenty minutes in a red theater and a blue theater.  The audience in the blue theater felt rather bored and were under the impression the lecture lasted longer, while those in the red theater found that time passed more quickly and the content was more interesting.  We are not certain what visibility experts were being quoted, but  agree with the critics  - this is not a background color that supports visual acuity for players or TV viewers. It may be new, and beautiful as a field of color but not functional in this application.

- Emily Eifler, Writer, Colour Studio
- Jill Pilaroscia, Principal, Colour Studio


  1. Interesting, I so love the psychology side of colour! Great post Jill!

  2. Very interesting comparison of colors indeed but i would like to see blue in future. In fact they should try out some other colors as well. Why do they always use same boring green and brown colors when we can use a lot of others.

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