Besides, Rome conjures up colourful images of gladiatorial battle, chariot races, the Colosseum and some incredibly camp people dressed in togas. Why would anyone want to ditch that in favour of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia? Or the Barcelona Open Banco Sabadell. Or what I'm pretty sure is the worst offender the Abierto Mexicano TELCEL presented by HSBC (no I didn't make that up).
It's not that I object to sponsorship. It is after all the price you pay for being able to offer unprecedented levels of prize money which, particularly for the smaller events, is sometimes quite necessary to attract the big names. Let's also not forget how difficult it is in the current climate to attract and retain a reliable sponsor. But I consider it a step too far, when I can't instantly recognise where an event's being held, or am not able to glean at least some idea of it's standing in relation to the other events (something that should be a lot easier now that the ATP has gone all Nascar on us).
Anyway, I love Rome. I consider it the Crown Jewel of the Clay Court Season, an unofficial Clay Court Slam if you will. It's produced better matches these past few years than most anything I've seen at Roland Garros. Except of course last year, when Djoko cakewalked his way to the title in an event that saw both semi finals cut short by retirements.
See it's like this (in my head at least). If you want scenic views and prestige, you go to Monte Carlo. But for battleaxe tennis you head to Rome. Plain and simple. You've heard enough from me about Coria's and Federer's insanely competitive matches with Rafa there to know why. And as far as Hamburg goes, well that was for those that were interested in what clay court tennis would be like without Rafa (08), or either of the top seeds(06). Or in a time when Roger would still breeze through to clay court titles. I tend to remember it for it being the venue that Roger broke Rafa's 81 match winning streak.
I feel for Hamburg, I really do. It's a pretty big deal in Germany and has history going back to the nineteenth century. Whatever your view about a governing body's right to downgrade events and reposition them in the calendar, you can understand Hamburg not being entirely happy at being usurped in this way.
Still looking forward to Madrid though. I really don't understand what prevents there being more co-ed events outside of the Slams. You would have thought those in charge would have cottoned on to the very obvious
box office appeal such an opportunity presents. Especially with the show Indian Wells and Miami put on. Though someone will no doubt now tell me it's something to do with 'scheduling difficulties'.
Maybe my love affair with Rome is all based on an illusion. Maybe the reason the event has lost some of its fizz over the last couple of years rests with the decision to limit matches to three sets. In fact I'm almost certain it does. But I'm also certain Rafa was slightly less invincible three years ago - and whatever other thoughts you may have on the credibility of Roger pitting himself against Rafa on clay, you must agree that he was better placed mentally to make a meal of some of those matches.
This year, both Djoko and Murray have given us every indication that they too intend to make a meal of Rome. Roger too will be pressing very hard if his Monte Carlo press con is anything to go by (and if he knows whats good for him). But what I really want to see is a 'Charge of the Red Brigade' - a strong showing from the likes of Ferrer, Almagro, Robredo, Verdasco, Monaco - heck I'm even prepared to put Nalbie and Gonzales on that list even though they're not what I'd consider clay court specialists.
As great as Nadal's feats have been these past few years, what's been notably absent are credible performances from the guys that should be effortlessly sliding their way through the draws - the so called clay court specialists.