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Roger Federer is the second best clay court player of his generation

roger federer clay court rafa nadal rome masters italian open single handed backhand

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#1 Umarah


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Posted 13 June 2013 - 02:00 AM

With his recent defeat in the Rome Masters final a few weeks ago, I got thinking, what is Roger Federer's problem on clay? Does he even have one? After all out of his 76 career titles only 10 have been on the red stuff. Why is that after reaching five finals at Roland Garros he has just a solitary French Open title to his name? Is it possible that the greatest player of all time is a bad clay courter? Even as I typed that last question my keyboard blushed with embarrassment at it's absurdity.









There is only one major problem Roger Federer has had in his career. Rafael Nadal. It really is as simple as that. The head to head between the two weighs heavily in favor of the Spaniard largely due to his supremacy on clay. 20-10 overall, but 13 of those 20 have been on Nadal's favourite surface.





So why is is that Roger Federer finds it difficult to beat Rafa on the slower court?




Nadal is the epitome of the modern tennis player whereas Federer, in complete contrast, is the elegant classic player; the double handed backhand versus the old style single hander, physical brute force versus an effortless demeanor, emotion versus ice cool calm. But the distinguishing factor is Nadal's forehand and it has wreaked havoc on many clay courts over the years.
The majority of players (except perhaps Novak Djokovic) just cannot cope with the enormous amount of topspin Rafa manages to produce with this shot. Over 3000 rotations per minute has the ball bouncing off the clay above most opponents shoulder height, which makes it difficult to hit back without it falling woefully short and coming back with interest.
Add to that the fact that a single handed backhand is weaker than a double handed one and it proves to be an even more potent weapon than usual. Roger, however strange it may sound, is one of the few that has dealt with it particularly well, but consistently over the course of a five set match it breaks down and is not a shot that can relentlessly hit back such a forehand. The lower bouncing hard and grass courts find Rafa's forehand to be less effective, bouncing just at the perfect height for Roger, resulting in more success for the latter. 
Tactically Rafa has it spot on and he knows exactly what to do when he plays Roger. In his autobiography he has admitted that he likes to play to Roger's backhand most of the time and we see it too. He will always serve there and when the return falls short he'll bury a winner in the open court. Then he does it again and again and again and not even the great Roger Federer can cope with the barrage over the course of two or three hours. The fact is that Rafa's game is perfectly suited to clay and it shows in his results having notched up an unprecedented eight French Open titles, losing just one match in Paris since in eight years.
nadal 8 french open collage.jpg
Picture having the Collage of Rafa Nadal's 8 French Open Roland Garros title updated after his 2013 title
An unbelievable record by anyone's standards. All the above factors have contributed to Rafa's domination over Roger and has in turn led to a vital psychological advantage. Federer seems nervous when he plays Nadal, missing shots he would normally make in his sleep and it's evident in his body language. 
Having said all of this I go back to the question I began with.
Is Roger Federer a bad clay court player?
Absolutely and unequivocally NO.
Had it not been for a certain Spaniard Federer would have had in excess of twenty Grand Slams today (having lost four French Open finals to Rafa) and many more ATP titles to his credit.
So, in reality, Federer is an exceptional clay court player of his generation & I will rate him as the second best clay court player of his generation.
Reasons & some of Roger Federer's major accomplishments on Clay ----
(i) Last 9 years record at Roland Garros --- 5 French Open finals (1 Title in 2009), 2 Semi-finals, 2 Quarter-finals.
(ii) 58 wins at Roland Garros (Jointly tied at #2 in most number of wins at French Open)
(iii) Till now, out of 242 natches played on clay, Roger Federer has won 187 and lost 55 & has a 79% success record on clay court.
(iv)  Reached finals of 23 Clay Court tournaments, winning 10 out of those (with two wins vs Rafa Nadal on clay).
So what exactly is Roger Federer's problem on clay?
Two words. Rafael Nadal.





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#2 Vibhu batra

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Posted 13 June 2013 - 03:34 AM

Great write-up, loved your insights, yeps, I agree with you, Federer for sure, has been the 2nd best clay courter of the last decade. I also think, people tend to under-value Federer's accomplishments on clay, but as you rightly mentioned, RF surely is the 2nd best on Clay :).






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#3 Wendy_redRobin


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Posted 13 June 2013 - 04:38 AM

A well reasoned article and I too agree with you.

In fact the commentators mentioned the incredible amount of topspin that Rafa is able to generate on his forehand. Difficult to see when watching the match as the ball is just a blur, but the result is there in the way in which the ball bounces making it harder to deal wth the other end.

I recall Roger joking in an interview some time ago, how his backhand had improved as the result of other players targeting it as his weaker side!

The double handed backhand, although a powerful stroke, does look more awkward to my mind, the fluidity of swing and reach Roger achieves with his single handed backhand seems greater.

It's a pity in a way that, one cannot wave a magic wand making the top players the same age ..... I wonder if the results would have been any different?

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#4 Yami


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Posted 13 June 2013 - 05:49 PM

Nicely explicated article it is,all your arguments are plausible and rightly Roger is the second best clay court player :) I enjoyed reading it right since the beginning till the end and would like to appreciate your writing skills too.Kudos :)

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#5 Poorna


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Posted 13 June 2013 - 05:49 PM

A very Nice article....  yeps he is the 2nd best on clay!!! :)


So what exactly is Roger Federer's problem on clay?
Two words. Rafael Nadal.
hahahaha it is funny!! :D ..

Posted ImageNo Matter What we will support him always!! My love.... Roger Federer!

#6 Guest_Kiyoshi Fujioka_*

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Posted 13 June 2013 - 07:36 PM

I agree. Between 2005 and 2009, Federer was defeated by only Nadal at Roland Garros. As posted on Gplus

#7 Guest_Paweł Matysiak_*

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Posted 13 June 2013 - 07:37 PM

Actually I recall Nadal said at one of the interviews that Roger is an Excellent Clay court player. I don't think anyone argues that he was good on the surface - at least nobody who watched the game carefully. The thing is he was hugely overshadowed.

#8 Inez


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Posted 14 June 2013 - 12:46 AM

Was a very nice detailed post. For sure, Federer's clay court game improved by leaps & bounds after the loss to Gustavo Keurten in 2004. Many people had then called him that he too like Sampras will go win-less at Roland Garros, but the one big noticable difference was how well he started sliding. Also, need to mention the hard work that he had put in the off season after the year ending championship of 2004, that surely showed up in his clay court game from 2005 inspite of losing to Rafa in the semi-finals of 2005 Roland Garros.
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#9 Guest_Mudith Himwan_*

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Posted 14 June 2013 - 01:04 AM

That's why what Robin Soderling was able to do in 2009 is no mean feat.

#10 FedererTipsa


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Posted 08 May 2014 - 10:05 AM

Actually I recall Nadal said at one of the interviews that Roger is an Excellent Clay court player. I don't think anyone argues that he was good on the surface - at least nobody who watched the game carefully. The thing is he was hugely overshadowed.


Exactly... remember how he easily beat players like Coria before year 2005.

I think Roger was not great on clay at the beginning of his career, especially when he lost to old Kuerten at the french open 2004 (and 1st round at the french open 2003), but then he learnt how to play on this surface and even beat Nadal 2 times.


His best match could be the Roma final in year 2006 when he had 2 match points against Nadal but lost 7/6 in the 5th.

Or obviously the french open SF 2011 when he beat Djokovic in 4 sets. Terrific performance. 

#11 Tennis Lover

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Posted 08 May 2014 - 08:38 PM

If Nadal loses in Madrid, I will believe Roger can beat him in RG this year! :P

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