madrid masters master a new domain



By Lindsay Sakraida, on Twitter

Hangin’ above the crowd: This week, the tennis tour hits the Madrid Open, the most controversial stop on the clay-court schedule. And while much focus has been on Rafael Nadal‘s disapproval of playing in the high altitude before Roland Garros, there’s more to the Madrid cache than a public disagreement with its most famous compatriot. At every opportunity, the Madrid Open creatively and strategically aims to differentiate itself in a very modern way — and the tennis tour is all the better for it.

Mastered differences: Madrid has always been unconventional. It changed from hard courts to clay in 2009, at which point the tournament director announced that he was considering forgoing the iconic rust-colored dirt for a thoroughly modern blue. (It never came to fruition, to Nadal and Federer’s approval.) Long before the surface change, the tournament began using models as ball kids during the later stages of the draw, and the fetching — in more ways than one — “kids” continue to raise eyebrows nearly a decade later. (But just to be clear: these are no “kids.”) And just this year, the event was publicized by dangling racket-wielding acrobats off the side of a court-covered building. In all manners, Madrid aims to get people talking with arresting visuals.

But the most telling distinction between Madrid and the rest of the tour lies in its most accessible marketing device: their website. It combines vibrant graphics and Flash-based design to convey a unique energy and atmosphere, and there’s even a custom animation at the top that pays tribute to the distinct form of the Caja Magica. It’s fairly obvious that the site isn’t your typical tournament’s digital home, but the most significant deviation from the norm is quite subtle; Madrid doesn’t use the ATP template (nor the WTA template, for that matter) in its design. Take a look at the Rome, Monte Carlo, or Indian Wells sites. Each uses the same architecture and rotating carousel of top stories and images. Madrid isn’t the only tournament to shun the standard — both Cincinnati and Paris are moderately different, for example — but it’s one of the few locations, especially among the big nine Masters Series, to forgo the status quo in favor of something truly unique. And with continuous debate about what tour stop should be bequeathed the “Fifth Slam”, Madrid’s deliberate branding seems like a move for the title.

TSF Vault: Our love for the webby Madrid

Along with its home page, the tournament also has a vibrant YouTube channel. It’s not unusual for a tournament to post press conferences, daily recaps, and occasional behind-the-scenes content, but — despite YouTube’s history of creating viral phenomenons — few use the video service to genuinely engage the audience. But in the lead up to the main draw, Madrid has done just that. It challenged its Spanish-speaking audience to submit videos proving why they are the ultimate “Super Fan,” which resulted in a plethora of charming tournament tributes. It remains to be seen what sort of content they will provide during the tournament proper, but if this promo video (which features Feliciano Lopez) is any indication, it’ll be just as vibrant and lively as its carefully-cultivated image.

More: Springtime teal in Madrid | Rafa’s distaste for colorful clay

Above all, Madrid serves as an example of what the sport can become in this new age — a Europeanized (and better version) of a US Open Series event. Tennis has always stood on the shoulders of the many cities that host it, but quite often, standardized tournament branding fails to effectively represent each location’s diverse nature. Hopefully, with its constant attempts to break the mold, Madrid will inspire its fellow tournaments to modernize and engage the global audience. After the jump: More high-flying pics from Madrid’s on-the-wall acro-tizing. [Read more...]

short balls: march madness



by Benjamin Snyder

Maria got an eight seed and Caro a nine. Serena? Nowhere to be found. (Screengrab via Esquire.com)

Is tennis (and the world) suddenly in the palm of Maria Sharapova’s hand again? Esquire‘s battle of beauty and search for the sexiest woman alive has the web abuzz during the month of madness. In the brackets, seeded 8th, her first competition is none other than Caroline Wozniacki, the 9th seed. Step aside world no. 1 because against Masha you’re better as Miss Congeniality. Plus, it looks like Esquire’s made up its mind on which blonde to root for: “On the tennis court, we’d probably pick Wozniacki, but on whatever kind of court this competition occurs on, our hearts will always be with Sharapova.” Yeah, cuz she sells ads, y’all! Click here for Esquire’s entire bracket brilliance.

Don’t think we’re done there… a revamped Maria, a revamped website. Reports the WTA, Masha’s actually “the world’s most followed female athlete on Facebook with 3.85 million fans.” Who knew? (Serena must be pissed!) In a statement, Sharapova wrote, “One on one engagement is important to me as my fans continue to provide an honest voice for me.” How does fiancé Sasha Vujacic feel about playing second fiddle to the fans? We’ll find out as that part of Masha’s life becomes more prevalent… er, is that possible? Royal wedding, Russian edition, here we come!

Around the game: Indian Wells action continues to heat up in the California desert as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer advanced over tough opponents in qualifier Somdev Devvarman and American up-and-comer Ryan Harrison. Will they clash in a much wanted and much rarer – at least these days – battle of the titans in the final? Novak Djokovic – with a stunning 15-0 record so far this year – will do his best to prevent it.

For the women, however, we’re left without fan-favorite Kim Clijsters who retired (from her match… not the sport) with a shoulder injury against the two-handed force – on both wings! – of France’s Marion Bartoli a la Monica Seles.

Williams Watch: It’s been tough following the medical drama from the Williams camp, especially Serena’s severe blood clots.  It seems her mental game has also taken a big hit, according to a recent USA Today article. The 13-time major champ revealed just how much the injuries have affected her emotionally. She said, “I definitely have not been happy, especially when I had that second surgery (on my foot), I was definitely depressed. I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around.” | Her Twitter, however, paints a brighter (Serena-fied) picture: “I am feeling Much better Guys thanks again for all the support. I hope to be working out soon. Very soon….  about 14 hours ago via web”

LOVE: We love ESPN the Magazine’s newest plot to distance itself from competitor Sports Illustrated: an annual fashion issue. Need tennis experts? We’re here, ETM.

(maria/sasha images via getty)

love roger in 140 chars or less



roger-site-nike09a

Roger Federer XV: Tomorrow, the folks at Nike are launching a special site to commemorate Roger Federer‘s 14 major titles and his potential 15th here at Wimbledon 2009.

For geeks, the site will feature an interactive display of info about Roger’s 14 slams.

For fans, the most important feature is the ability to send Roger their love via the site or through Twitter (#goroger). These messages can also be shared on Facebook via Facebook Connect. The site will have a centralized image that will be constructed with a grid of boxes; each box will display a fan’s message to Roger.

The site: For now, just displaying the RF monogram — niketennis.com/rf

(image courtesy of Nike)

public service announcement: anna kournikova



Thanks to reader Richie Rich (of Heatherette?! Probably not, but we can dream…) for this tip:

“Former Russian tennis World Doubles No. 1 Anna Kournikova will be hosting a live chat with her fans tomorrow on her official website. Anna will be available to answer your questions on tennis, the WTA Tour, the French Open, her life, her recent travels overseas, her charity work, and any other questions you might have.

To participate, log on to www.kournikova.com from 3pm EST on Tuesday afternoon. A link will be posted on the homepage of the Kournikova.com website an hour before the event commences. Alternatively, you can click the “Chat Live” link as a registered member of Anna’s Official Community on SportsMates.com.”

If any of you fabulous TSF readers decide to participate, drop us a line and tell us how it went!