Who Is the Better Clay Courter, Djokovic or Federer?

The answer to this question is not a no-brainer which means that Djokovic fans will say the answer is Djokovic while Federer fans will say the opposite. That is just how the minds of fans work. It’s an annoying little thing in tennis called bias.

Everyone who is a fan of any particular player has it. I have it too, but unlike most fans, I admit that I am biased. And once you admit to bias you can’t really be biased because bias is in many ways a form of denial.

That said if you think I am not qualified to make this post because I am a Djokovic fan you are welcome to stop reading here. Or you can continue reading because I am a tennis expert and know what I am talking about.

  • The Numbers
Clay Court Resume Djokovic Federer
French Open Titles 1 1
French Open Finals 3 4
Masters 1000 Titles 8 6
ATP 500 Titles
ATP 250 Titles 4 4
Clay Court Titles 13 11
Head-to-Head 4 4
Head-to-Head vs Nadal 7-15(47%) 2-13(15%)

As you can see the numbers are very close with Federer having the added French Open final but Djokovic has more Masters titles, more overall titles, and a significantly better head-to-head record against Nadal.

Djokovic also made four French Open semi-finals as opposed to Federer’s two, that 2013 semi-final being the most memorable one where he was a break up in the fifth against Nadal while Federer has never been able to stretch Nadal to five sets on clay.

Djokovic also destroyed Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 in the 2015 French Open quarters, something Federer couldn’t do if Nadal was on one leg. I added the head-to-head record with Nadal because as the clay GOAT he is the ultimate test on clay.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the numbers are in Djokovic’s favor. Federer only has the one more French Open final but he is six years older than Djokovic and has won only an ATP 250 on clay in the last three years.

Djokovic, on the other hand, will keep adding to his clay court resume in the coming years. I have already predicted that he will win at least one more French Open title but if he doesn’t he should easily make at least one more final there and win some more Masters titles.

  • Why the Numbers Favor Djokovic

The reason the numbers favor Djokovic and will favor him even more in the future is because he is better on clay! Simple, right? And the reason he is better is because he is a better athlete, has a better baseline game, and is mentally stronger than Federer.

It’s not rocket science. No doubt Federer is a tremendous clay courter himself who achieved a lot on the surface but in comparison to the other surfaces his clay court resume is quite poor. His defensive skills aren’t anything close to Djokovic or Nadal’s which is critical for success on clay.

His one-handed backhand is not suited for the protracted baseline rallies of clay court tennis either. Finally, he is not a warrior like Djokovic and Nadal. He won’t fight to the death for the lack of a better description.

You may get away with that on faster surfaces but not on clay. If says a lot about Federer’s immense talent that he fared as well as he did on clay. But the reason that he fared so much worse on clay than other surfaces is because clay is the ultimate test of a player’s will, physical fitness, and mental strength.

Not that Federer is poor in those areas by any means. He just isn’t quite up to Djokovic and Nadal’s level. Djokovic and Nadal have immense mental and physical reserves. They will practically die out there like we saw in the 2012 Australian Open final.

And that is something I respect a lot.

  • Djokovic vs Federer on Other Surfaces

I think it is fairly certain that Djokovic will go down as the greater clay court player while Federer will go down as the better grass court player. The tiebreaker will be hard courts.

You can add indoors as a surface but these days indoor tennis is played pretty much entirely on hard courts and Djokovic and Federer have similar indoor records anyway.

With the recent Australian Open title, Federer pulled ahead of Djokovic in hard court slams 10-8. That was big for Federer because Djokovic was well on his way to surpassing Federer on hard. Now it won’t be as easy.

I can see Djokovic winning two more hard court slams. Maybe even three. But two would probably be enough for him to surpass Federer given all his US Open finals and Masters titles, provided Federer wins no more hard court slams and Djokovic wins another World Tour Finals.

It’s going to be close anyway and these two are going to be very close in the GOAT debate at the end of the day. Clearly, Djokovic favors slower surfaces while Federer favors faster surfaces. The fact that Federer won the Australian Open just made things very interesting.

It was Federer’s response to Djokovic’s assault on his GOAT status. This will serve as huge motivation for Djokovic to respond by winning the French Open because it would be the perfect response.

Not only would it confirm beyond any shadow of a doubt that Djokovic is the superior clay court player but it would give Djokovic the double career slam, something that would set him further apart from Federer after achieving the personal slam.

The next few months is going to be an extremely interesting time in tennis…

Prediction: Djokovic Will Win the Double Career Slam

I don’t usually make many predictions because tennis is too unpredictable and I am a bit superstitious but this prediction is not that Djokovic will win the French Open this year. Just that he will win it again at some point.

With the Australian Open hype having settled down a bit and Fedfans getting their fairytale ending it is time to get back to reality and look ahead to the future. Currently, things have quieted down a bit in tennis with none of the big four back in action since Melbourne.

Since the first major of the year, Dimitrov has continued his good form with a title in Sofia while Alex Zverev continued to show why he is the most promising young talent on tour right now with his second title in Montpellier.

  • Why I Like Djokovic’s Chances in Paris Again This Year

I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I was a Federer fan I could never see where his 18th slam title would come from but since I became a Djokovic fan I felt it was almost inevitable that he would win another slam.

The only reason that he wasn’t winning #18 was because of how well Djokovic was playing. I knew Federer was still playing at an incredibly high level and that all the talk of decline from his fans was just sour grapes that he kept losing to Djokovic.

Of course, since Federer won the Australian Open his fans have no problem admitting that he is still playing brilliantly, that he is the GOAT, etc. After all, he defeated his eternal nemesis Nadal in the final. And that after being a break down in the fifth set.

Although I felt during 2015 and 2016 that Federer was bound to win another slam, I thought his chances took a serious hit when he pulled out of the 2016 season after Wimbledon. I thought that might have been the final nail in the coffin for his chances.

But then he gets thrown a lifeline in Australia with the speeding up of the courts and miraculously wins #18 after a 6-month break at the age of 35. You could attribute it to luck but that would show ignorance or bias.

Federer has knocked long and hard at the door for an 18th slam title and he never stopped believing. Not even after having to take a 6-month break from the sport. The slowing down of conditions on tour in the last few years didn’t suit Federer but he kept believing and trying.

So you just gotta tip your hat and congratulate him. Since Djokovic won the personal slam I was expecting some kind of response from Federer and although I didn’t expect it to happen at the Australian Open I think it is good for tennis.

Djokovic was already on his way back after his slump with his performances in London and Doha and the fact that Federer won #18 at his best slam will motivate Djokovic a lot I think. What happened in Melbourne was against the run of play.

It wasn’t supposed to happen. Djokovic was supposed to win the title and return to dominance of the tennis world. But then the organizers decided to change the court speed which threw a spanner in the works.

Since Melbourne Djokovic has opted not to play in Dubai which means his first tournament back is only in March in Indian Wells. I think that is probably a good decision. He needs to save himself and focus on winning majors now.

Historically, Indian Wells and Miami has been some of his best hunting grounds where he has won 5 and 6 titles respectively. That is a good place to come back and start gaining some winning momentum for a very important clay court season.

  • What Would a Second French Open Title Mean For Djokovic?

With Federer winning the Australian Open the hype was high as usual and many people have proclaimed him the undisputed GOAT. No doubt winning his 18th slam at 35 is highly impressive but it’s not as simple as that.

Federer still trails his two biggest rivals in the head-to-head and the win against Nadal didn’t do much to offset his 12-23 head-to-head with Nadal or his 3-9 head-to-head in slams and 1-3 head-to-head in Melbourne with Nadal.

Federer has also fallen behind 22-23 with Djokovic in recent times and 6-9 in slams including 1-3 in slam finals. No doubt Federer has a tremendous game and resume but it is not perfect. His backhand and mental strength are less than perfect and so is his tennis on slow courts.

Compared to other surfaces his results on clay have been relatively poor. He won five or more titles at all the slams except for the French Open where he won only one title. And that was when he didn’t have to face Nadal.

This is where Djokovic has a golden opportunity to carve out an even more unique legacy for himself. It is already very unique in that he won the personal slam, the most Masters titles, won the highest percentage of Masters titles, have a winning record against all of the big four members and had the most dominant season in history in 2015.

If he wins the double career slam he would become the first player in history to do so on three different surfaces. Djokovic already has a more complete game and a higher peak level than Federer.

If he wins a double career slam it would just emphasize that fact. The amateur view is that grand slam titles are the only measure of tennis greatness. As an expert, I can tell you that is simply not true.

Balance in a tennis resume is more important than impressive numbers. Federer has some impressive numbers but he also has some serious flaws in his resume. I’m not saying Djokovic will surpass Federer, but I believe he has the potential to do so.

But he does need to win more slams and it would help an awful lot if he starts by winning the double career slam at the French Open this year. Faster surfaces may be making a comeback on tour but clay will always remain a slow surface.

So I feel like Djokovic needs to take advantage of that. Not that Djokovic has anything to prove on fast surfaces. He’s won multiple Wimbledon and US Open titles and he isn’t vulnerable on any surface the way Nadal is on fast courts or Federer on slow courts.

He is the most complete of the big four but I feel like he should prove that with another French Open title. He is too good on clay to have won only one French Open.

  • Who Is the French Open Favorite?

The Australian Open not only saw the return of Federer but also the return of Nadal. Nadal missed out big time because he would have won the double career slam and would have been very close to if not ahead of Federer in the GOAT debate.

But he will still take a lot of positives from Australia and is already called the favorite by many to win a 10th French Open this year. I don’t mind him being called the favorite but that doesn’t mean he is the favorite.

Nadal hasn’t won a set against Djokovic in their last seven meetings, including the 2015 French Open quarterfinal where Djokovic won 7-5, 6-3, 6-1. If Djokovic does well in Indian Wells and Miami and goes on a hot run during the clay court season he is going to be hard to stop in Paris this year.

After the Australian Open failure, I expect Djokovic to be highly motivated and the courts only slow down from here on which favors him. There will be plenty of obstacles along the way like the newly inspired Federer and Nadal, Murray, Wawrinka, and the younger players like Dimitrov, Raonic, Nishikori, Zverev, and Thiem.

And let’s not forget that Del Potro makes his return in Delray Beach. There is an interesting time ahead now and I don’t know who the French Open favorite is but I do know that Djokovic will be highly motivated which will make him awfully hard to stop.

But even if he doesn’t win it this year I think he will win a second French Open title at some point which would be another massive and unique achievement that could propel him ahead of Federer in the GOAT debate.

Ps. Come to think of it, I am happy Federer won in Melbourne and not Nadal even though I said I hope for the opposite before the final. Nadal winning the double career slam would have been a bit tragic given his one-dimensional game. Failing to do so gave Djokovic a very unique opportunity.

Final Thoughts On the 2017 Australian Open – The Changed Court Speed Made All the Difference

The grand slams are the biggest events in tennis that come around only four times in a year which is why I always make one post to look back at what transpired over the past fortnight and look at how it affected the tennis landscape.

The 2017 Australian Open obviously had great significance because of the fact that Federer, at last, bagged that elusive 18th slam title which put him further ahead of the field in the GOAT debate.

When Djokovic was going through the most dominant run in tennis history from the beginning of 2015 to the French Open in 2016 I had in the back of my mind the idea that at some point there must be some kind of response from Federer.

I am particularly referring to Djokovic completing the personal slam at the French Open. That was something Federer could never achieve and on top of that he had lost four very significant slam matches against Djokovic since 2014.

Djokovic was not only fast closing the gap between him and Federer in terms of the most important records but he was now also dominating the head-to-head. Federer had to do something fast but couldn’t cash in on Djokovic’s early loss at Wimbledon last year or on Djokovic’s slump which continued after that due to Federer’s own injury.

Along came 2017 and Djokovic was starting to gain momentum again. And besides, no one was seriously considering Federer as an Australian Open favorite after a six-month layoff. And it was after all Djokovic’s best slam.

  • How the Court Speed Made the Difference

The court speed this year in Melbourne is not something I wrote about much during my coverage but it was on my mind and I think it is the critical issue that caused this to be the Australian Open of great upsets.

As you can see, Rod Laver Arena is now one of the fastest surfaces on tour. Therefore, it is no wonder that Federer won and defeated his nemesis in the final at that. Of course, it took a tremendous effort from Federer and the court speed doesn’t take anything away from his victory, but it does explain why this was such a strange Australian Open.

It also shows us how boring tennis could have become if they didn’t slow down court speeds in recent times. Federer may have won something like 25 slams by now and dominated for even longer which would have been awfully boring.

I’m also certain of the fact that Djokovic’s loss was caused by the considerably faster courts this year. As a Djokovic fan, it is a tough thing to accept, especially since he was just about back to his peak level again after defeating Murray in Doha.

It was a big blow for him because it came at a crucial time where he needed to make a stand at his best slam after letting things slip since Wimbledon. It shows you how much court speeds and the decisions of tournament organizers can affect things.

It can literally be a determining factor in the GOAT debate. Had the surface speed been the same as last year Djokovic probably would have defeated Istomin and won the tournament. He has only lost once in the last six years on that surface.

The faster courts just give him that little less time to reach balls and make defensive plays which can make a huge difference in the outcome of a match. I saw it very clearly in the Fedal final as well.

Nadal made way fewer of those ridiculous defensive plays than he did in the 2009 final and he constantly looked rushed. I thought he could have been more aggressive at times but Federer and the courts made that hard.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Nadal would have won had the court speed been the same as last year. But then neither Federer nor Nadal would have made the final. It is way more likely that Djokovic and Murray would have been in the final.

Murray’s loss to Zverev is another dead giveaway that the court speed was drastically different. A serve-and-volley player in the quarters of the Australian Open? Are you kidding me? And that after defeating the world number one?

But even as a Djokovic fan it is hard to feel bitter about the drastic change in court speed because of the way in which court speeds have been slowed down on tour in recent years. It is not conducive to Federer’s attacking game style and he has suffered many brutal losses because of it.

  • What Does It All Mean for the GOAT Debate?

Yes, the change in court speed in Melbourne this year could have had a big effect on the outcome of the GOAT debate. After his Australian Open title, many people are now proclaiming Federer as the undisputed GOAT.

He had won the elusive 18th slam and defeated his nemesis in the process. It is hard to argue with their logic. Personally, I think it is a great story and great for tennis. I am celebrating with Fedfans; not as a Fedfan but as a tennis fan.

That said the GOAT debate is something very subjective. There are so many factors to consider like the court speeds I just mentioned, the era players play in, how they fared against their biggest rivals, the records that they broke, and many other things.

That’s why I find it easier to divide players into tiers and I have already said my top tier consists of Laver, Federer, and Djokovic(I would have added Nadal if he won the Australian Open). They all did amazing things. Laver won the calendar slam, Federer won his 18th slam at age 35, and Djokovic had the most dominant run in history when he won the personal slam and he reached the highest level of tennis ever in my opinion during that time.

And Djokovic is far from done. I thought he may have some serious personal problems and that he lost his drive after the Australian Open loss, but after having time to digest it I realized it was simply the court speed.

The Djokovic I got to know during 2015 and 2016 when he was dominating was one of the most driven and ambitious individuals I have ever encountered. I was certain he would become the GOAT with that level of ambition and drive.

Then I started thinking he has marriage problems and that he changed but I don’t think you just lose that level of ambition that easily. He was already at his best level again in London and Doha this year.

He just got unlucky with the changed court speed at the Australian Open. I don’t think it is a question of motivation. Djokovic will be back. Soon it will be Indian Wells and Miami where he is almost unbeatable and then the clay season where he can make up for what happened in Melbourne.

Since Nadal could not complete the double career slam in Melbourne this gives him the opportunity now to become the only big four member to do so. The GOAT debate is certainly not just about how may slams you win.

I know this is the popular view but it is definitely not true. Laver won only 11 slams but he is considered by many to be the GOAT. That is because he won the calendar slam. These things matter.

So does the Djoker slam and so would the double career slam. There is a reason Federer or Nadal have never achieved these things. They are incredibly hard to do!

  • In Conclusion

I don’t necessarily think Federer has the GOAT title wrapped up. He may have it wrapped up for the time being but he is closer to retirement than Djokovic. Djokovic recently said that he plans on being around for a long time(until he is 40).

The GOAT debate is very subjective anyway and despite this one big win over Nadal, it doesn’t do much to change the overall head-to-head of 1-3 at the Australian Open, 3-9 in slams, and 12-23 overall.

It also doesn’t change his 1-3 head-to-head with Djokovic in slam finals or the overall head-to-head which is in Djokovic’s favor. Djokovic isn’t done. Neither is Federer or Nadal. I think it would be boring and unfair to close the GOAT debate now.

What happened in Melbourne was a big setback for Djokovic but may well cause him to work even harder than he did of late and make him sacrifice everything to win the French Open again this year.

We will just have to see. But I don’t think the GOAT debate is over and I’m still very interested to see what happens next!