How Good is Federer on Clay?

With the clay season starting I was wondering how well Roger measures up on clay in terms all all time greats on the surface. I found the following list that someone posted on MTF:

1. Bjorn Borg
2. Rafael Nadal
3. Mats Wilander
4. Ivan Lendl
5. Gustavo Kuerten
6. Guillermo Vilas
7. Jim Courier
8. Sergi Bruguera
9. Thomas Muster
10. Roger Federer
11. Jan Kodes
12. Juan Carlos Ferrero

Taking into account that it is difficult to compare players across eras, I thought it was a pretty decent list. I put someone else’s list here because I can’t say how good Vilas or Kodes was on clay for instance, because they played before I started watching tennis. I have always thought that Roger would be top 10 all time on clay at least, and on this list he just makes it. The only two players that Roger played against on this list is Nadal(2-10 on clay) and Ferrero(3-0 on clay). Another player who Roger have played against who may have made this list is Carlos Moya(3-0 on clay). Other notables that Roger have played against may include Coria(2-0 on clay) and Gaudio(2-0 on clay). As you can see, Roger totally dominated the clay court specialists in his era who was not named Rafael Nadal.

If you look at his record against Nadal, who will most probably become a greater clay courter than Borg(if he isn’t already), it is actually not a bad record at all. Just to get the two wins against Nadal that he did takes some doing. Then they had other very tough matches on clay like the Rome final of 2006, the Monte Carlo final of 2006, and the French Open final of 2006. He had match point(s) in that thrilling five set match in Rome, with Roger playing at his absolute peak. I think Roger’s record against Nadal on clay is actually quite impressive, given what a freak Nadal is on clay. Aside from Borg perhaps, I doubt any of the other players on the list would have fared much better than Roger did. Personally I think Roger could be higher on that list. Other than Nadal, I think the guys he could have possibly struggled against was the absolute clay court specialists like Muster, Kuerten, and Bruguera.

Guys like Wilander, Lendl, and Courier wasn’t out-and-out clay court specialists, and I think Roger is at least as good, if not better than them. The main thing to take into account is that Roger played in the era of the clay court GOAT, and then you have to take into account how he fared against the other clay court specialists of his era. And as I have already shown, he totally dominated the other clay court specialists of his era. I am convinced that if Roger played in any other era than Nadal, that he could have easily won three French Open titles. Nadal is not only the GOAT on clay most probably, but he is a very difficult match up for Roger. The bottom line is that Roger is an immensely good clay court player, and it is obscured by the fact that he played in the era of Nadal. If you look at the list, there is only five players who won three or more French Open titles.

I know that French Open titles is not the only measure of greatness on clay, but it the most important as far as I’m concerned. So lets say Roger has won three French Open titles in another era, it would make him basically top five on the list. So in the end I would say that this list is probably a tad harsh on Roger. I would say that Roger is quite possibly in the top 5, and without a doubt in the top 10. What do you think? Feel free to disagree and share your own list here.

Ps. Roger played against Kuerten as well and had a 1-1 record against him on clay. Sorry about that.

Roger Federer


Posted in Uncategorized and tagged .

23 Comments

  1. He played Guga at least once at RG. Lost early in the draw.

    I think he’s better than top 10. For four years in a row the only guy able to beat him at RG was Rafa. How many others made it to that many straight RG finals?

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    When he lost to Guga at RG he was still finding his clay confidence, it was the year before he made his first semi there. That doesnt mean i think hes better than Guga on clay of course.

    [Reply]

  2. Excellent post, Ru-an.

    Nadal’s absolute dominance on clay has obscured Federer’s incredible abilities on that surface. Federer lost to Nadal four times at FO (once in semis and three times in the final). He lost six times to Nadal in clay-court Masters finals.

    Without Nadal, Federer would have dominated the clay as completely as he dominated the grass and hard courts in 2004-07. He would almost surely have five FO titles and 23 Masters titles, way beyond Agassi’s record. He would’ve won the FO-Wimbledon double in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 in addition to 2009.

    As a clay-court player he would be ranked in the top three of all time easily, comparable really only to Borg.

    But who knows, if he had everything his own way in those days, he might have gotten bored with it all and retired by now, without ever having been forced to dig deep and develop further as a player and use all of his potential. Perhaps things are better this way, after all.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks Steve, glad you enjoyed it. Remember Borg never won a hard court slam, so Roger is a better all court player.

    [Reply]

    Andrew Reply:

    A good point Steve. Johnny Mc often says that in hindsight Bjorg retiring at 26 dulled his passion for the game because he didn’t have anyone to push him further and further

    [Reply]

    Chris Dodds Reply:

    This is not true Andrew. Johnny Mac was frequently beating Bjorg right before Bjorg retired. Some people even say Bjorg could not handle losing to Mac so he retired.

    [Reply]

  3. These kinds of lists are always very debatable, aren’t they? We know that were it not for the presence of a certain Spaniard, Roger might have had one of the most impressive clay court records of any player.
    .
    Of the players listed above we can see that some of them are clearly clay-court specialists. I wouldn’t include Roger in that category. He happens to be (or have been, at his peak) an extraordinary all-court player, who could impose his impressively varied game on any surface and against almost any player. Yet, he does not play on clay the way most clay-court specialists do. That, in itself, is remarkable. On that list, only two, or maybe three, other players could be said to be dominant on other surfaces: Lendl and Courier. Borg is an exception because he was a predominantly clay-court player who was able to adapt his game to grass. Nadal I consider to be a clay-court player who has succeeded on other surfaces with that style because of his freakish physical skills. If we look for the great fast-court players they are not there of course: Sampras, McEnroe, Becker and Edberg. That’s what makes Roger’s achievements on clay, even in the era of Nadal, so remarkable: he successfully spans every surface and with essentially the same marvellous all-court playing style. He may not be the best, or even in the top two or three, on clay but he is a one-off by virtue of his inclusion on the list.

    [Reply]

  4. Apologies for not really commenting on your latest post Ru-an as I have only watched tennis for the last couple of years. I just wanted to say…… YESSSSSS! Roger just beat Cilic! 70% of first serves in too! Awesome :-)

    [Reply]

  5. Hey Ru-an.I am back.As usual good read.And yeah i think Roger would have at least won 3 FO titles if he Dint play in the era of clay court GOAT Nadal as clay is the surface on which he grew and is the second best clay courter of his era only next to the CC GOAT.he would have had more titles if Nadal wasnt playing.And yeah as somebody commented ,he didnt do well coz of Nadals freakish physical abilities.anyways Roger feels he can take a step forward this year and this makes us more confident and u more optimistic.Keep updating,Bye

    [Reply]

  6. federer’s natural talent dominates other players’ clay court specialization. and it’s not like clay was a surface federer had to adjust to in order to play well. he learned tennis on clay, so it’s natural for him! i think people forget about this all the time. people like to downplay federer’s prowess on clay because they are always trying to find fault with him, especially rafatards and fedhaters. otherwise he would be too perfect. i’m trying to as objective as i can as a fan, but realistically speaking, if nadal wasn’t around, fed would have won all the RG titles nadal prevented him from doing so and would not only be the undisputed GOAT, but would also be arguably the clay GOAT along with borg.

    with that being said, he’s playing quite average this week, with a healthy amount of shanks, and he’s only getting to all these SF and F recently because basically anyone not named nadal/djokovic who showed up on the other side of the court against roger has basically just folded. can’t remember anyone giving him a challenge recently, and it’s very possible that ferrer will get his first win against roger this week, and if not then nadal will blast him off the court.

    [Reply]

  7. ^^ I watched the match too. Roger seems to feel really good after a long time and I think Monte Carlo has helped him clear up his mind. I believe he’s trying to revive his whole style. He desperately needs a quick boost of his confidence.

    He uploaded this photo before the match: http://img819.imageshack.us/i/20787710150158156154941.jpg/

    He’s gonna win Monte Carlo. It’s high time he started winning some ATP 1000 Masters.

    How disgusting it is when people(especially young well educated people) believe things merely just because many other people(“experts”, “critics”) believe the same things. Whoever holds a pen thinks he’s a journalist.

    On the topic, I consider Federer to be the greatest tennis player on every surface; he’s a unique all-rounder. However, Nadal has been playing the most effective tennis on clay and I think that’s the difference. He isn’t more versatile, he just plays more effectively on this surface. Roger should have won at least 2 more matches against Nadal on clay(2-10 is a joke to me). Anyway these two guys are way ahead of the rest.

    [Reply]

  8. ferrer beating federer.LOL XD
    Their H2H is 11-0
    It will most likely be a straight set win

    [Reply]

    Pranav India Reply:

    take my word back federer out of monte carlo a Nadal like perfomance by Melzer.Constantly targeting federers backhand
    Federer should have utilized the breaks

    [Reply]

  9. I did my own Open Era list that takes into account performance only at MC, IO, Hamburg/Madrid and FO. Only 15 best results count and I use the current ATP point system. Here’s what I got.

    1. Rafael Nadal 20,000
    2. Bjorn Borg 17,900
    3. Ivan Lendl 16,080
    4. Mats Wilander 14,760
    5. Roger Federer 14,320
    6. Guillermo Vilas 13,320
    7. Gustavo Kuerten 12,820
    8. Sergi Bruguera 10,920
    9. Thomas Muster 10,760
    10. Ilie Nastase 10,520
    11. Manuel Orantes 9,940
    12. Juan Carlos Ferrero 9,860
    13. Andre Agassi 9,690
    14. Jim Courier 9,540
    15. Jan Kodes 9,100

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    This is a very interesting list David. Im assuming IO is Rome?

    [Reply]

    David Reply:

    Right, and those three “tune-up” tournaments were fairly big events even before they came up with the Masters Series concept. It obviously doesn’t tell the whole story. If Borg’s goal in tennis had been to rack up as many clay court titles as he could, he would’ve set records that even Nadal wouldn’t have been able touch, imo. But I think this system does fairly reflect just how good Roger was on clay and what most of us probably feel. That Roger would’ve won all those titles against ANYONE ELSE, rather than losing all the time in the finals.

    [Reply]

    David Reply:

    Also, one last point.

    I think Roger’s clay performance is arguably what sets him apart as the GOAT more than anything else. Obviously getting the career grand slam was huge, but more than that he was the second-best player on clay in his era, behind only a guy who for many is the GOAT on that surface. That really distinguishes Fed from Sampras (his biggest GOAT rival, imo, because Laver won many of his Slams as an amateur), who in many or most other respects is very, very close to Roger.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Great points David.

    [Reply]

    Anders Reply:

    I get in doubt about your list David as I seem to get to different numbers for both Nadal and Fed:
    Nadal must have more than 20.000. Five French = 10000
    Six MC (now seven) = 6000
    Five Rome = 5000
    1 Hamburg and 1 runner up = 1600
    Madrid: 1 and 1 runner up = 1600.
    All in all: 24200.

    Federer also seem to have too few:
    FO = 4 RU + 1 win + 1 semi + one quarter = 7880.
    MC = 3 RU = 1800.
    Rome = 2 RU and a semi = 1520
    Hamburg = 4 wins + 1 RU = 4600
    Madrid = 1 win + 1 RU = 1600.

    All in all = 17400
    Anyhow, must have been an amazing effort calculating for all of them!!!

    [Reply]

    Anders Reply:

    and am surprised to learn just how close their points are on clay!

    [Reply]

    David Reply:

    Hi Anders

    I’m pretty sure the numbers are correct. Note that I only take into account the 15 best results. I did it that way so that someone who plays for 20 years isn’t going to accumulate more points (with a bunch of quarterfinal results) than someone like Borg, who was incredibly dominant but had a relatively short career.

    [Reply]

    Anders Reply:

    But if you’re sure, could you then point to where my numbers are incorrect? I can’t see how Nadal stays at 20.000 with 5 FO, 5 Rome, 6 MC (already 21.000) and a bit from Hamburg/Madrid.

    [Reply]

    David Reply:

    He stays at 20,000 points because his 15 best results are 5 FO titles (10,000 points total) and 10 World Tour Masters 1000 titles (10,000 points total). Under my system, the only way he can add to his total is either by winning the French Open again or losing in the final. If he wins it this year, for example, his 15 best results would be 6 FOs and 9 WTM 1000 titles, for a total of 21,000 points. If he loses in the final his 15 best results would be 5 FO titles, 1 FO runner up and 9 WTM 1000 titles, for a total of 20,200 points.

    [Reply]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *