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 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…