When it comes to talking about the best in history on clay, nobody doubts that there is a King and that is his name Rafael Nadal. The Balearic Islands are at a sidereal distance from the rest and it is precisely because of the tremendous superiority of Rafa over others, that has covered a little the benefits that Roger Federer has left throughout his career on this surface and it can be said that he has been underestimated since he encountered the greatest beast that ever set foot on a dirt track. Trying to analyze his records and his tennis on this surface, Where can we place Federer among the best in the history of brick dust?
As with the GOAT debate, subjectivity comes into the picture when it comes to placing someone among the best in history and it is not clear what things should be taken into account for this. If we stick to the Roland Garros titles, Björn Borg should be considered the second best tennis player on earth in history, adding six cups in Paris, followed by Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl and Gustavo Kuerten, all with three. But there are those who refuse not to include Guillermo VilasAlthough he only won one Roland Garros, he won 49 titles and won 632 games on this surface.
We review the record of the biggest winners in the history of the Roland Garros tournament, both in the men’s and women’s sections.
Vilas’s problem was meeting Wilander, Lendl and Borg at the same time. That deprived him of winning more titles in Paris. His numbers in terms of Roland Garros titles are not better than those of Bruguera or Courier but because of how he played, the titles he achieved and how he had to deal with those big three on this surface, perhaps it is unfair to say that he was worse than Courier or Bruguera simply for having one less Roland Garros.
This is something that we can extrapolate to the case of Roger Federer. The Swiss is not recognized among the general public as an exalted player on clay but that simply happens because he has had the “bad luck” to coincide with Nadal at the same time because if it had not been so, in complete safety, the numbers of the Helvetian on this surface would have been much greater since for many years, the only rival in height in Paris was Roger, who went on to lose up to four finals against the Majorcan.
The only Roland Garros that appears in Federer’s showcases was the one raised in 2009, taking advantage of the fact that it was the only time he did not meet Rafa on the road. The defeat that Nadal had against Soderling was taken advantage of by the Swiss to lift the last big one that was missing, leaving his numbers in a title in Paris, as well as six other Masters 1000 on clay, four in Hamburg and two in Madrid, lifting two of those trophies after winning Nadal in the final, the only two times he has achieved it in his career, being one of the few to have defeated the Spanish on this surface on more than one occasion.
Leaving Nadal and Borg aside, who should occupy the first two positions on this list without a doubt, the debate comes when determining the next places. Who do we place in the Top 5 and in what order? By titles, Lendl, Wilander and Kuerten are likely to be next in the ranking, but should we put Vilas and Federer next even if they have fewer Roland Garros titles than Courier and Bruguera?
As we say, in the debate on the best in history there are many parameters to analyze and it should not be based only on titles. It is up to each one where Federer would be among the best in history on earth but almost certainly, the Swiss will appear in the Top 10 of many.
Nor should we forget Novak Djokovic. The Serbian also has a Roland Garros title, won in 2016, and three other finals lost there. Novak must be credited since he is the player who has defeated Nadal the most on the ground, in a total of seven times, one of them being on the ground in Paris, something that only he and Robin Soderling can say they did. .
The Serbian also has nine Masters 1000 titles on this surface and by numbers, perhaps he should be ahead of Federer in the list of the best in history on earth but while Nole is recognized as a great player on this surface for the number of times he defeated Nadal and was able to do so in Paris, Roger is likely to have been undervalued for having coincided with Nadal but he should undoubtedly be among the best in clay court history.