Among the very few undebatable points in the GOAT debate between Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer is the fact that Nadal will go down in history as not just the greatest claycourt player among the Big 3, but the greatest clay-courter in tennis history. But how do the others, more importantly, Djokovic and Federer, stack up behind him on the list of all-time clay greats?
Before the Big 3 era, the likes of Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, Ivan Lendl, and Mats Wilander, among others, dominated the claycourts and mastered the red dirt. While Nadal’s often unimaginable brilliance on the surface denied Federer and Djokovic multiple titles, they still have some significant achievements on clay.
However, do their achievements warrant them a rank above the rest of the pack in terms of all-time greatness on clay? Let’s take a look.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have been unable to emulate their Australian Open, Wimbledon, and US Open successes at the French Open, which largely comes down to Rafael Nadal’s dominance.
The Swiss great recently retired with a solitary French Open title to his name, which came in 2009, while the Serbian has one more French Open title than Federer, with his two titles coming in 2016 and 2021. The Swiss maestro has won six Masters 1000 titles on clay while the Serb has won 11 Masters titles on the surface.
Both players have four wins each in their eight matches against each other on clay, with one win each at the French Open. Overall, the Serb has won six more ‘big titles’ on the red dirt than the Swiss maestro and also has a career clay win percentage of 80.4% as compared to Federer’s 76.1%.
Another factor that plays an important role in determining the better clay court player between the two is their respective record against Nadal. Djokovic has won eight times in 28 matches, while Federer has two wins in 16 matches against the Spaniard on clay. The Serb is also the only player ever to win two matches against Nadal at Roland Garros.
The above statistics and numbers suggest that the Serb is better on clay as compared to his Swiss counterpart.
The Serbian great’s stats confirm that he is more accomplished than the Swiss maestro on clay, but he still has stiff competition from Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, and Ivan Lendl to be the second-best clay court player ever.
Borg won six French Open titles – four more than the Serb. While he won lesser Masters titles, he has a total of 32 titles on clay, 14 more than Djokovic’s 18 titles. He also has a superior career-winning percentage on clay, which stands at a superb 85.7%. While it can be argued that the Serb often had to compete against the greatest clay-courter ever in Nadal, Borg’s numbers clearly suggest he is a cut above the rest as the second-best player ever on clay.
Digging deeper into pure statistics, both Vilas and Lendl are quite neck-to-neck with Djokovic in terms of career-winning percentages and Grand Slams won on clay. While Vilas (49) and Lendl (28) each have considerably more career titles on clay, the Serb has won more big titles (13) on the red dirt than Vilas’ 5 and Lendl’s 9, and that too in the ‘Nadal era.’ Taking all major factors into consideration, the 21-time Major champion would thus stand at par with Vilas, while just about edging Lendl.
Meanwhile, Federer sits behind both Vilas and Lendl pack in claycourt greatness, having won lesser Majors, overall titles, and a lower winning percentage than the Argentine great Vilas and American great Lendl.
Finally, a ranking list of some of the best clay court players of all time would comprise of:
Rafael Nadal and wife Maria Francisca Perello spotted with infant son. click here for pictures.
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