Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic: Who’s Better on Clay?

Federer

If someone asked you who the best player on clay is, everyone would give you the same answer: Rafael Nadal. Now what about if someone asked you who the second best player on clay has been over the last 15 or so years, the answers you would hear would mostly be split between two players: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. So statistically, who has been the second best clay-courter during Nadal’s reign?

Events

Roland Garros

Ultimately, both of their biggest claims to being the second-best player on clay starts at the biggest event on the surface, Roland Garros. Whilst we all know both have one title each, how do their other results stack up against one another? Well, Federer hass made four more finals in addition to his win, while Djokovic has one fewer at three. Nonetheless, the 32-year-old has an overall higher number of semifinals and even ten consecutive quarterfinals, something not even the great Nadal has achieved in Paris.

When it comes to individual match wins at Roland Garros, Federer has more wins at 70 to 13 losses (81.4%) meanwhile Djokovic has a slightly better winning percentage at 67-12 (83.8%), fourth of all time. There’s definitely not much to choose there between the two.

Result: Tie

Masters

Following his first clay court title win in Madrid since his Roland Garros triumph in 2016, the 15-time Grand Slam champion now finds himself with nine Masters titles on clay, split fairly evenly with two in Monte-Carlo, three in Madrid, and four in Rome. With three less Masters titles, the Swiss has four in the now downgraded Hamburg event and the other two in Madrid, with zero coming from the other two active Masters on the dirt.

Result: Novak Djokovic

Titles

There’s more to clay than just Roland Garros and Masters titles, and if we take a look at both of their records overall we find the 37-year-old’s final record to be negative. Despite 11 title wins, he still has a losing record in finals–no doubt thanks to Rafael Nadal, who accounts for 11 of his 15 losses. On the World #1’s end of things, he has three more titles with less final losses.

Result: Novak Djokovic

Head to Heads

Vs Another

The first time both of these great champions played on clay was all the way back in 2006 at the Monte-Carlo Masters. Since then, they’ve surprisingly only gone on to play seven more times on the surface. What’s unsurprising, though, is despite it all they’re tied at 4-4 on the surface and 1-1 at Roland Garros just to cap off the evenness.

Result: Tie

vs Rafael Nadal

It’s fair to say that both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic’s success should also be measured in how they competed against the best, in this case Rafael Nadal. Over the years, the 37-year-old has found himself sharing the same clay court with the Spaniard 15 times. Despite such a large number of matches, the 2009 Roland Garros champion has only won twice, with the last coming over 10 years ago in Madrid!

If you look at Djokovic vs Nadal on clay, the story is completely different. Whilst Nadal still leads handily at 17-7 it’s worth noting that since 2013 they’re at five wins a piece. Most impressively, the Serbian is one of only two players to beat the 11-time Roland Garros champion in the heart of Paris, something Roger Federer has tried and failed at five times, with a sixth attempt coming on Friday

Result: Novak Djokovic

Head to Head vs Top Players

Astonishingly, both men have almost the same amount of losses to Top 10 players on the red surface. The man from Belgrade has 29, with the man from Basel, 28. That one additional loss, however, comes with seven more wins–39 opposed to 32, three coming in the past month against the likes of Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Juan Martin del Potro.

Against top five players, once again thanks to Rafael Nadal, both are negative with almost identical records; Djokovic is 20-22 and Federer is 18-20. The Swiss has just two wins in his last seven against Top 5 opponents, which also doesn’t bode well for his match against World #2 Rafael Nadal on Friday and his chances of adding more wins to that list down the line.

Result: Novak Djokovic

Winning Percentage

Last but not least, the winning percentage of both men in their careers on clay. The current holder of three Grand Slams is fifth all time at 213-54 (79.8%); the 20-time Slam champion at 218-69 (76%), not quite good enough to be inside the top ten despite a great record and third of all active players.

Result: Novak Djokovic

Conclusion

Given the many debates that have gone on over the years about which of the two was better on clay, I expected my analysis to be a lot closer than it turned out. Besides Roger Federer’s additional Roland Garros final, there isn’t much else he has over the great Serbian on the surface. Djokovic holds the upper hand in rivalries against top players, titles and winning percentage.

Of course, if the Swiss man can somehow beat Rafael Nadal on Friday in the Roland Garros semifinal and then back it up with a final win–which could also be against Novak Djokovic–then the tables would have turned massively to put Federer on top. As it stands right now, however, Djokovic is the better clay court player statistically–and another Roland Garros title would all but seal that up for good.

Main Photo:
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