15 Greatest Clay-Court Players of All Time

Many in tennis believe that the most challenging surface is clay. The ball is a little slower on clay courts, so points tend to last longer. Not only that, but the movement is much more challenging since players need to rely on sliding to change direction.

That didn’t seem to cause much trouble at all for the 15 players to make up this list. In fact, it ended up being an advantage for them against opponents not as comfortable on the red clay. In the history of tennis, these guys did it better.

15. Robin Söderling

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 62.3%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 2
  • French Open Titles: 0 (2 Finals)

The prime of his career was not long by any means, but anyone who beat Rafael Nadal in his prime deserves mention.

He was the first-ever to beat Nadal in Paris, playing a near-perfect match in 2009 to pull off the victory. He backed that run-up in 2010, once again reaching the finals. He lost both finals appearances, but one was to Roger Federer while the other was to Nadal.

Injuries and illness prevented him from doing much more after 2011, but his hard, powerful baseline game was the talk of the sport for a short time. Plenty will remember his play for a long time as the first to give Nadal such a huge challenge.

14. Andy Murray

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 69.5%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 3
  • French Open Titles: 0 (1 Final)

Andy Murray always seemed extremely comfortable on clay courts. He did a lot of training as a youth on clay, and many thought that would translate to a title at some point in his career.

He did reach a final in 2016 at the French Open but had to settle for four additional semifinal appearances. A winner at the Madrid Open and the Italian Open, he was always a major threat in any clay tournament he entered.

13. Dominic Thiem

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 74.5%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 10
  • French Open Titles: 0 (2 Finals)

Thiem is another one on this list who never won a French Open championship. It’s no surprise that all of them played during the Rafael Nadal era, as there aren’t too many trophies to go around. Thiem has two finals appearances, losing to Nadal in 2018 and 2019.

An aggressive baseliner who can hit some outstanding groundstrokes on clay, Thiem is also still looking for his first Masters 1000 Series title on clay. He’s been the runner-up twice at the Madrid Open, but can’t seem to find that breakthrough he needs.

12. Stan Wawrinka

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 66.4%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 7
  • French Open Titles: 1

The 2015 French Open title winner surprised many when he found a way to break through and beat Novak Djokovic in the final. Wawrinka went in as a heavy underdog, but he pulled out the victory with his second Grand Slam of his career.

His outstanding one-handed backhand certainly played a big role in the success on clay, and that has translated well into other tournaments. His only Masters 1000 title of his career came at Monte Carlo in 2014, but he also lost in the finals twice at clay-court Masters.

11. Jimmy Connors

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 76.8%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 12
  • French Open Titles: 0

Jimmy Connors is the last person to make this list without a French Open title. In fact, he never even made a final, although he did make the semifinals four separate times.

Some might wonder why he makes a list like this, but they might forget that he does have a Grand Slam title on clay. He won the 1976 U.S. Open, and that was sandwiched between two finals losses in 1975 and 1977. That makes him arguably the greatest player in U.S. Open history during its brief time on clay.

Connors won plenty of tournaments on clay outside of Paris as well. He was a consistent force on tour for many years, and his evolution as one of the first power players in the game certainly gave him an edge when the clay dried out some.

10. Andre Agassi

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 72.7%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 7
  • French Open Titles: 1

Clay was not Andre Agassi‘s favorite surface, but he certainly had a game that translated well. He was about as consistent as they come from the baseline, and his fitness was unquestioned.

He only won the French Open once in 1989, but he also reached two finals in his career. As far as Master Series events are concerned, he added an Italian Open title to his resume fairly late in his career.

9. Roger Federer

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 75.9%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 11
  • French Open Titles: 1

Some believe Roger Federer should be much higher on this list, as he did come up just short several times when going up against Rafael Nadal.

With just one French Open title in 2009, it’s certainly been the one substandard spot on his career. It’s arguably his worst surface, but for a guy who is considered one of the greatest to ever play, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

His longevity on tour has allowed him to push the level at ATP Tour Masters 1000 series events as well. Although he mostly skips clay court seasons in the later years of his career, it’s hard to argue with five total appearances in the final of the French Open.

8. Guillermo Vilas

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 79.7%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 49
  • French Open Titles: 1

The 1977 French Open champion was always a very tough out in Paris. As a lefthander with consistent strokes, it was already a tricky proposition for a lot of opponents. His consistency allowed him to make deep runs several times, including losing in the final on three separate occasions.

A native of Argentina, he finished with 49 clay-court titles on the Grand Prix Tour, which is a record. That includes his 1977 season when he won 14 times in one calendar year.

7. Jim Courier

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 68.5%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 5
  • French Open Titles: 2

The highest-ranked American to make this list is Jim Courier. It’s hard for American players to truly dominate on red clay since it is so rarely found in the United States.

Still, Courier found a lot of comfort on the surface, and he was able to win back-to-back French Opens in 1991 and 1992. His two wins at the Italian Open showed that those runs at the French were no fluke.

6. Novak Djokovic

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 80%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 17
  • French Open Titles: 2

The statistics might not be there for Novak Djokovic at the Grand Slam level, but that has a lot to do with the guy who is number one on this list. Yes, he only has two French Open titles, but his dominance at smaller tournaments has shown that he is truly remarkable on red clay

In ATP Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, he has two wins at Monte Carlo, three wins at the Madrid Open, and five wins at the Italian Open. He’s also someone who has beaten Nadal more than once on red clay, which is a pretty shortlist.

There’s a chance that he adds to his numbers and moves up on this list, but his current ranking here is about as high as it can go.

5. Gustavo Kuerten

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 70%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 14
  • French Open Titles: 3

Gustavo Kuerten is another one of those players who didn’t have the longest career, but he dominated at the French Open when he was in his prime.

He only won three Grand Slam titles in his career, and they all came on the red clay in Paris. Including back-to-back championships in 2000 and 2001, he was the last truly dominant player at the tournament until Rafael Nadal came along.

Kuerten grew up on the red clay in Brazil, and it was the surface he always found ways to succeed on. He won Hamburg once, Rome once, and Monte Carlo twice to solidify himself as the premier player of his era on the surface.

4. Mats Wilander

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 76.7%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 20
  • French Open Titles: 3

Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl were the two dominant forces in the middle of the 1980s at the French Open. Wilander was able to win three titles of his own, as he hoisted the trophy in 1982, 1985, and 1988. Even though he had a fairly brief prime, he was almost always in the mix for a championship in Paris.

Outside of the French Open, Wilander also won titles at Rome and Monte Carlo. If he had a few more solid years on clay, he might be higher on this list, but four is still very respectable.

3. Ivan Lendl

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 81%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 28
  • French Open Titles: 3

The consistency of Ivan Lendl during his career is a big reason why he comes in at third on this list. Not only did he win a total of 8 Grand Slam titles, but he was a runner-up 11 times.

The French Open was arguably his favorite tournament, and he won three out of four years between 1984 and 1987. His only loss during that stretch was to the guy next on this list in the finals in 1985.

Lendl also did very well in non-Grand Slam events on clay, showing his dominance with a very heavy topspin forehand to dictate most of his play. His consistency from the baseline on both wings made him feel impossible to beat at times.

2. Björn Borg

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 86.1%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 32
  • French Open Titles: 6

Björn Borg owned the title as the most dominant player on the clay courts until Rafael Nadal came along. He was basically the Nadal of his day, although he didn’t have quite the longevity of the Spaniard. Still, winning 6 Grand Slams at the French Open certainly made him a challenging opponent.

Not only was his playing style perfect for clay, as he was one of the first to play almost exclusively from the baseline, but he had a very calm and calculated approach mentally. That allowed him to play strong in matches and persevere through long sets.

In addition, his fitness was one of the best in the business, which also contributed to his success. He is also one of the few players with a U.S. Open title on clay court, as the tournament took place on that surface for three years.

1. Rafael Nadal

  • Win Percentage (Clay): 91.6%
  • Career Titles (Clay): 62
  • French Open Titles: 14

It’s impossible to have anyone else at the top of this list other than Rafael Nadal. He has not only dominated at the French Open, but he’s rewritten the record books at so many other clay-court tournaments as well. However, his utter domination in France is why everyone regards him as the best.

To this day, Nadal has a total of 14 French Open titles. His combination of topspin, outstanding speed, fitness, and familiarity with the surface all contribute to his dominant style.

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