The fact that Rafael Nadal is the greatest tennis player on clay is not up for debate. But where do his rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic rank when it comes to prowess on the red dirt?
Federer has long been regarded as a grasscourt specialist, while Djokovic has stamped his authority on hardcourt in the last decade.
But when only their performances on clay are taken into consideration, who comes out on top? Considering some of the most important metrics on the surface, who has the edge? How do they fare when they play against each other and when they lock horns with Rafael Nadal? Let’s take a look:
Match wins – Novak Djokovic (243) vs Roger Federer (226)
In terms of matches won, Novak Djokovic has the clear edge. The 20-time Grand Slam champion has 243 wins on the surface as compared to Federer’s 226. The Serb has also lost 12 fewer matches than the Swiss (59 vs 71).
The World No. 2 thus has a win percentage of 80.4%, while Federer has only a 76% win percentage on clay.
In the yearly breakdown too, it is Djokovic who comes out on top. The former World No. 1 has won 10 or more matches on clay 16 years in a row, from 2006 to 2021. Federer, however, has only 13 seasons under his belt with at least 10 match wins on clay.
Titles – Novak Djokovic (17) vs Roger Federer (11)
Novak Djokovic has six more titles to his name on clay than Roger Federer. The Serb has lifted 17 trophies as compared to the Swiss’ 11.
Moreover, the Serb has won 12 “big titles” on the surface — two French Opens and 10 Masters 1000s. Federer, meanwhile, has only seven — one Roland Garros title and six Masters 1000s.
Head-to-head – Tied with 4 wins apiece
In the head-to-head, there is nothing to separate the two. The pair have faced each other eight times on clay and have won four matches apiece.
The Swiss and the Serb have squared off against one another twice in the French Open. Federer won in 2011, while Djokovic won a year later
Results against Rafael Nadal – Djokovic (8 wins in 27 meetings) vs Federer (2 wins in 16 meetings)
The most interesting metric is how Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have fared when pitted against the indomitable Rafael Nadal on clay. The 40-year-old has squared off against the Mallorcan 16 times on clay so far, and has managed to win only twice.
His first victory came at the 2007 Hamburg Masters, where he ended the 21-time Grand Slam champion’s 81-match win-streak on the surface. Federer’s second win against Nadal on clay came two years later, at the Madrid Masters.
Djokovic, meanwhile, has beaten Rafael Nadal eight times on clay in 27 meetings. More importantly, he has managed to beat the Spaniard at his own fortress, the French Open, twice — the only man in history to do so. It is clear then that the World No. 2 has been a bigger threat than Federer to Nadal on clay.
Djokovic is also more effective against top-10 players on the surface, winning 46 of his 78 matches (58%). The Swiss, meanwhile, has 32 wins to his name in 63 matches (50.8%). If the encounters against Nadal are removed from the equation, their win-percentage improves to 74.5% and 63.8% respectively