Final thoughts on the Mutua Madrid Open

La Caja Mágica. What a lovely name for a tennis venue, tho I likened it to a maze as I tried to navigate my way through the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open (seriously – the venue needs more signs). “The Magic Box”is definitely the most unusual venue I’ve been to and the outdoor red clay tournament had more of an indoor feel due to the layout of the stadium, vendors and fan areas.

This year’s event had a lot of narratives going in as the tennis season leads up to the French Open, but in the end Andy Murray and Petra Kvitova were victors in Madrid, and both won their finals in emphatic fashion.

Andy Murray won his second-ever, and second-straight, title on the red clay. I saw all sorts of match assessments of his quick win over Rafa Nadal in the final, and I’m in the opinion that Andy played well, and Rafa was pretty terrible. I was really excited for this match because we just don’t see Rafa and Murray play as often as the other Big Four match ups and I’d personally never seen it live myself. But it was really a pretty disappointing final, won by Murray 6-3, 6-2. Great for Andy to finally get some wins on the red clay – I don’t think he was ever awful on it by any means, but I wouldn’t anoint him the champion of Roland Garros just yet. For Rafa, well. It was not a great day, and it hasn’t been a great past 9 months but we’ll see what happens in Paris. Rafa’s past records on clay are completely amazing and it’s not a shock that he couldn’t sustain that type of dominance for his entire career.

Murray vs Nadal

Murray vs Nadal

Petra Kvitova vs Svetlana Kuznetsova was a pretty unlikely final in terms of the field, but both earned their way to the title match with some impressive wins. Sveta’s path to the final was Makarova, Muguruza, Stosur, Safarova and Sharapova. I mean – what a run! I saw quite a few of Sveta’s wins and she went from barely beating Safarova in the quarters (coming back from match points down) to looking extremely solid against defending champion Sharapova the next morning.Serena vs Petra semifinal

Meanwhile, Kvitova is not someone I would not have expected to see holding the trophy tho she did win the event in 2011 (which I total forgot – she beat Azarenka in the final). Petra took a widely discussed break in March, skipping both Indian Wells and Miami and she seems to have her fire back. I did not make it the final but Tennis Twitter told me “Peak Petra” showed up and there was little Sveta could do to combat her (also the Russian picked up a thigh injury which forced her to w/d from Rome). I saw Petra’s win over Serena Williams in the semifinals and she looked to be in impressive form so it’d be fantastic if Peak Petra hung around for awhile – she can be pretty elusive.

A big thanks to The Changeover team for giving me a chance to cover the Madrid Open for this site. It was my first visit to Madrid and this tourney and it’s always fun to experience a new event. I missed a few days due to sightseeing (this city is INCREDIBLE! I’ll be blogging about it on my travel blog) and hosting a friend but here are a few final thoughts on this year’s Madrid Open:

The venue:
The design on the main stadium in Madrid is so strange – the lower boxes felt cold and sterile and the way they are designed makes it hard to see that anyone is in them. This is not great when people are watching on TV as it usually seems like there’s no one in there (well, often there wasn’t). I always wonder what the players think as they walk into a stadium that’s not very full – we see it all the time but it always bums me out. I never understand why people are so slow to get into their seats. I love watching the players get introduced and seeing the warmups and what do fans have against the first 3-5 games of the match? Imagine if sporting events were like Broadway shows and you had to be in your seat for the start of a match or you couldn’t get in until the end of a set. Maybe people would show up on time and be in their paid seats to provide more atmosphere for matches. Anyway….#rantover

As I said, the Madrid Open feels more like an indoor tournament. Much of the seating inside Manolo Santana stadium is covered, and the majority of shops and food stalls is also in covered areas, either inside the complex or on the ground floor fully covered by ‘the box.’ The only areas that area outside are the back courts where most players practice and non-stadium matches are held.

Lack of attendance to women’s matches:
I wasn’t onsite on Saturday, but I heard the stadium was pretty empty for the WTA final. This breaks my heart, but it’s part of the larger issue the tournament has with its lack of interest/support of women’s matches. The women’s final had been on Sunday in Madrid for at least the last few years but this year it was moved to Saturday. I didn’t find out why this was done, but this year the WTA final was scheduled in between the men’s semifinals. Petra vs Sveta followed Rafa Nadal’s win over Tomas Berdych and so many left the stadium after that match and clearly never returned. This is such a bummer but it’s consistent with how the rest of the event went.

Empty stands at the Kuznetsova/Safarova quarterfinal

Empty stands at the Kuznetsova/Safarova quarterfinal

I’m a huge WTA fan and I pretty much watched all women’s matches in Madrid other than a few other ATP matches (mostly Nadal’s).Part of the reason I made sure to go to some of the women’s matches is because so few people seemed to be in the stadiums (there were certainly exceptions but in general this was the case). I hate seeing so many empty seats so I tried to see as many matches as I could.

I have a lot of questions about the scheduling in Madrid. Why do the top 8 men get a bye but the top women don’t? The tourney started on a Friday, and the top ATP players don’t play their first match until Tuesday or Wednesday. So for the first few days the majority of matches are women’s matches. As soon as the top men start playing the women were pushed into the first two matches on Manolo Santana and never at night. Spain is known for its culture of late night eating, etc so you can be sure at 11am the stadium wasn’t very full. So what’s the deal Madrid? This was really frustrating – the women just felt like the warmup and the sideshow here. The only time I saw the stadium full was during Rafa’s matches. I didn’t watch Roger Federer’s loss to Nick Kyrgios but I heard it wasn’t even full. What?

Fan experience:
Even tho I attended the event as media, I had a few thoughts on the tournament from a fan’s perspective…

  • The tournament had a pretty relaxed vibe and never felt chaotic and super crowded. The queues were rarely very long for bathrooms, food, etc which was a nice change of pace from other big events which can be hard work.
  • Although there was a decent amount of seating by some food areas, there’s no real outdoor spaces or public areas for hanging out. I regularly saw kids sitting on the ground near the player arrival area because there was really nowhere else. This goes along with my view that this is not a proper outdoor event. There’s no big screen area like at other events where you can keep an eye on matches – maybe that’s more an North American thing?
  • A practice schedule was posted on the website each morning and for the most part it seemed accurate. It wasn’t always put online until after 10am however so often fans just rocked up to see who was on the back courts as they came in. I always appreciate when schedules are online so fans can plan their days.

    The back courts

    The back courts

  • From all reports, the tourney doesn’t let you bring in any food and you can’t bring in plastic bottles with lids – they will remove the lids. I can’t speak as to whether you’re allowed to bring in metal bottles of your own to fill up.
  • The metro and local bus stops are a 10-minute walk from the venue so there’s lots of options. I was told there’s also a special event bus and that’s a great service too. I bought a 10-ride Metro/Bus ticket for 12 euros and that was a great deal. Depending on where you’re coming from, a 1-ride ticket on the bus or metro is around 1.50 or so, so if you do go for the whole event go ahead and get a pass.

Thanks again to the team here for the opportunity to cover the event – questions or comments on this year’s tournament? Hit me up in the comments!