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…

Posted in Uncategorized.

25 Comments

  1. I’ve only just skim read this Ru-an cause I’m currently on the move, but Fed did push Nadal to five sets at Rome 2006, even had 2 match points. I feel that very epic match was the most important clay match in their H2H and if Fed had won it, he would been much mentally stronger in the following BO5 clay matches such as the 2006 and 2007 RG finals where he could have definitely pushed them both to 5. You were still a Fedfan back then of course. From what you observed at the time, how much did Rome 2006 impact Federer in his H2H against Nadal, particularly on clay meetings?

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Ah crap, I forgot that Masters finals were played BO5 back then! To correct me then: Federer never pushed Nadal to five sets at the FO. And yes, that was a big loss in the Rome final. But in the end, Nadal won it because he is mentally stronger. He has done similar things to other players time after time. The 2006 Rome final doesn’t in any way affect the conclusions I drew in this post.

    All of the big four had losses like that in their careers. You could ask the same things about Djokovic’s loss to Nadal in the 2013 FO semis had he not touched the net etc. Had he won that match he would have won the FO in 2013 blah blah blah. Had Nadal made that sitter pass in the 5th set of the 2012 AO final vs Djokovic etc etc. It’s part of the game.

    [Reply]

  2. Federer has been in 5 FO finals, ’06-’09 + ’11.

    I’m not a fanatical Fed supporter, but I don’t agree overall. Through his prime Fed was literally only losing to Nadal at the FO. If it weren’t for the clay GOAT in his prime, Fed would almost certainly have 5 FO titles, at least 4. Djoko has been vulnerable to others there, most recently Stan and also notably to Fed in ’11, at which time Djoko was on the best run of form of his life up to that point. And many of his clay wins over Nadal, including the FO one, came past Nadal’s clay prime.

    [Reply]

    mike Reply:

    sry, didn’t realize you were excluding wins from the final count.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes, and Djokovic has been in 4 FO finals if you include last year when he won the title.

    Your bias is showing.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Another little interesting stat for you:

    Djokovic’s winning % on clay is 177-43 (80.45%)
    Federer’s is 214-68 (75.89%)

    👍

    [Reply]

    Danielle Hughes Reply:

    Thanks, this was the stat I was looking for in the original post. Also – how many clay court tourneys (not matches) played for the 13 versus 11? I am a balanced Fedfan but nonetheless might give the clay court edge to Novak based on his unbelievable superhuman athletic ability. If Fed is 10/10 athletic ability Novak is 11/10.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes, it is another important stat proving Djokovic’s superiority on clay. About your question, I’m sure Federer played way more clay court tourneys although I don’t have the answer.

    [Reply]

    Danielle Hughes Reply:

    If that is true then it’s one more reason to give the edge to Novak. I truly believe Novak is the most athletic of the three, Rafa has the most fight and heart, and Roger has the most natural shotmaking ability. Clay rewards athleticism as well as fight and heart. Grass rewards power and shotmaking, and hard court is combo of all three.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Yup, I agree.

    [Reply]

  3. And when Djokovic fails to live up to all your overhyped and biased praise this year, I will be there laughing.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Like I’ve been laughing every time Djokovic owned Federer in slams since the 2014 Wimby final after your overhyped and biased praise of Federer? :)) Not likely, as Djokovic already lived up to my justified and expert praise =))

    [Reply]

  4. Though i am a hardcore federer fan but there is no doubt that djokovic is a better clay courter.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    That wasn’t so hard to say, was it? If only all Fedfans were this objective they would be a lot more bearable and much easier to respect. Well done.

    [Reply]

  5. I actually think it’s closer between the two than it may look. Most people probably won’t agree with this but I think playing style shouldn’t be a consideration at all when having this kind of discussion, just because of the fact that someone like David Ferrer based on play style should be a better clay courter than both Federer and Djokovic yet it’s clearly not true. In addition to that I think they’re both their best on clay when playing atypically to how the surface is usually played. Federer obviously attacks everywhere but if you watch Djokovic’s wins on clay against Nadal he takes the ball early super often, enough to make the viewer nervous. In fact when he’s grinding is when I’ve seen him take close losses late in the French. Including against Stan a couple years ago and Nadal in 13. I think you have to consider that even though Federer has only won the French once he’s made a ton of finals and most of his losses are against the best clay courter of all time. By that logic Fed himself should be considered one of the best clay courters ever in his own right. (He’d have at least 3 without Nadal?) I’d even go as far to say clay is Novaks worst surface as well right now. He’s better to me on modern grass (maybe not 90’s grass). And their head to head is pretty even I think on clay too.

    Having said all that I still say Djokovic is the better clay courter between the two. He beat Nadal senseless in 2015 which no one will ever do again besides Novak himself maybe and he really should have won twice before that. His high 2 hander is just a superior shot to pretty much every groundstroke we’ve seen on clay (except Nadal’s Forehand) and he’s got more time to pad his resume which is already better than Fed’s clay court resume. Even though the head to head is close Fed has had to play insane on clay to barely beat Djokovic while he’s playing just OK. I also don’t think we’ve seen him ever play his best at the French either. It may be me and you can give your opinion on this but ever since I’ve started watching him (2006 I think?) he’s served relatively poorly at the French every year, and has served fine for the most part at the other 3. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or what but that’s what I see. If he actually served as well as he could every year I think he might have 2 more.

    Sorry for being so long winded, but basically I say as of now it’s kind of close but Djokovic has to be considered the better clay courter just through his heroic performances against Nadal alone. That level of success against him on clay is unprecedented and those matches may have even shortened Nadal’s career. No way to know for sure but clay season ad staying 2 in the world was a pretty easy and stress free experience for Nadal until 2011. Looking forward to the French this year! I must admit as an admittedly biased Fed fan it’ll be especially nice this year. He surprised me with the Australian and so I can’t really ask for anything in France. Or anywhere else for that matter. Just gonna sit back and see if he can pick up enough points to get a decent draw at Wimbledon. Lotta pressure on Nadal is always nice for me too haha

    Those are my thoughts! Hope you are well, should be a good clay season barring any injuries.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks, Darrell, hope you are well too. Playing style is not a consideration, it is an explanation of why Djokovic has better numbers than Federer on clay. That said, I don’t agree with the Ferrer comparison.

    I do agree that Djokovic’s h2h with Nadal is enough proof that he is the superior clay courter.

    [Reply]

    Darrell Robbins Reply:

    Oh yeah, I see you say “the reason is” and then you list aspects of his game. Sorry I didn’t catch that before. Again Great post

    [Reply]

  6. 1. I believe Novak is the better clay-court player. That being said, it isn’t by a wide margin. The evidence is in their head to head on clay. I honestly don’t put much stock into the head to head vs nadal. At the end of the day, it comes down to how many French Open’s you win. So if Djokovic wins another he will become the unanimous 2nd best clay court player. Love it or hate it determining the greatest on a particular surface always comes down to winning the major(s) on that surface.

    P.S. I forgot to include the masters 1000 as well. They do have importance in this debate. But i would weigh their importance significantly lower than the majors. Probably 80% majors, 20% masters.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Yup, majors are not the only thing that matters. Only amateurs believe that.

    [Reply]

  7. ND stepping outta the shadows into Acapulco! Probably officially the most important pair of 500s coming up that I’ve seen in while, with all things considered.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Yup! Nice to see.

    [Reply]

  8. Hey Ruan,

    Djokovic’s H2H against Nadal on clay is 7-14 and not 7-15 (???)

    Anyway, I think they’re pretty equal on clay, both one FO, equal H2H. Clearly, Djokovic is better suited to take on Nadal on clay.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    They met on clay in Davis Cup.

    [Reply]

    Eren Reply:

    Yeah true, but wiki still states 14-7 and they did include that Davic Cup match.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djokovic%E2%80%93Nadal_rivalry (scroll down to see the results of all their matches including that Davic Cup match).

    Anyway, 7-14 or 7-15, Djokovic turned it into his favour since 2011 with a 7-5 winning record on clay against Nadal.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Well I used the ATP website. Nice h2h since 2011.

    [Reply]

Leave a Reply

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