The WTA players are in Stuttgart, Germany this week for the first major stop on the European clay court swing. Just like all the other events in Europe this time of year, the tournament is on red clay. Unlike all the other events, though, this one is indoors. This Stuttgart event used to be part of the ever-dwindling Autumn European indoor season, but as part of Larry Scott’s “Roadmap 2009,” the event has been moved to April. Because of the change in season, the event has changed their indoor hard court into an indoor clay court, the only one on the WTA Tour.
The player response so far has been positive. Argentine Gisela Dulko, who upset Victoria Azarenka here, said that it was nice to play on her favorite surface without having to worry about managing the wind or the sun. It is unlikely that she would have had to deal with blazing sun, but the indoor court does mean that this weekend’s impending showers will not be an issue.
On the other hand, having seen several of the matches in Stuttgart so far, there is something unnervingly sterile about the way the court is playing. There is no wind swirling the clay around, no sun illuminating the red court, no movement of any kind. Playing on clay is not just about being on another physical surface, it is about contending with the elements and finding a creative way to win when none of the circumstances are cooperating. Players who love clay talk about how the surface is unique because it feels so organic, but moving it indoors can only make it more artificial. Watching Jelena Jankovic dismantle Dominika Cibulkova in the first round, I could not help but think that the match might as well have been on a hard court. It was missing that special challenge.