Roger Federer may be competing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015, and he returned to the surface earlier this month for the first time since 2016 Rome. But don’t discount the Swiss on the Parisian clay, as the 101-time tour-level titlist is no stranger to success on the red dirt.
According to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone, Federer has been one of this era’s clay-court leaders in all key categories, despite it being his least successful surface.
Federer has won 76 per cent of his matches on clay, third-best among active players. The only men who have done better are Rafael Nadal (91.7%) and Novak Djokovic (79.5%). Federer’s results put him in 15th place in the Open Era, and only 1.3 percentage points separate him from the Top 10.
Best Clay-Court Winning Percentage (Active Players)
The 37-year-old has won 218 tour-level matches on clay, fourth-best among active players. He did not play on the surface for two full seasons, in 2017-18. Nadal (429), Tommy Robredo (261, 66.6%) and Fernando Verdasco (227, 61.9%) are the only players still competing who own more victories than the Swiss star.
And then there is the matter of titles. Federer, the 2009 Roland Garros champion, is one of just four active players who has lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires. Nadal has done so 11 times, while Federer, Djokovic and former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka have accomplished the feat once each. Federer has won 11 tour-level titles on clay overall, tied for third among active players with Robredo, trailing Nadal (58) and Djokovic (14).
Federer might not have played on clay for a substantial period of time, but he has already shown his clay-court prowess in the two tournaments he has played on the surface this year. The Swiss held two match points against clay stalwart Dominic Thiem in the Mutua Madrid Open quarter-finals before ultimately falling short, and he made the last eight at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia before withdrawing due to injury.
“I felt I actually came back fairly quickly. Especially now with having played Madrid, I think the decision-making also came back quite naturally,” Federer said before the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. “I think it always goes back to the fact that I did grow up on this surface. Sliding is something I actually enjoy doing. The problem is, the more time I spend on clay, maybe sometimes the more excited I get playing on the surface, I start sliding around too much instead of actually moving sometimes like on the hard courts and only sliding when really required.
“I must say also in practice in Switzerland I felt good right away. Very happy where I’m at, to be quite honest. I was a bit surprised that it went as easy as it did.”
Did You Know?
Federer reached at least the quarter-finals at Roland Garros in nine consecutive appearances from 2005-13. The Swiss advanced to the final four straight times (2006-09) and made a fifth championship match in Paris in 2011.