With the 2019 French Open on the horizon, let’s take a look at the best tennis players to have ever played on the clay courts.
1. Rafael Nadal
When it comes to playing on the clay surface, there is one tennis player who is a cut above the rest. That player is current world #2 Rafael Nadal who has won an amazing 11 French Open titles in 14 tries. He has an amazing record of 86-2 or 97.7% at Roland Garros. Nadal has also won 11 times in Monte Carlo and 11 times in Barcelona, all records as well. His 81-match winning streak on clay is the longest in history as is his streak of 50 consecutive sets won on clay. Nadal has won a total of 17 grand slam titles, the second-most of all-time. He has won a record 57 clay court titles (and counting). Nadal is the current tennis betting favorite to win the 2019 French Open title.
2. Bjorn Borg
Borg retired at the age of 26 so his achievements were impressive because he accomplished them in such a short period of time. For instance, Borg played in only eight French Open tournaments but won six of them. His six wins at Roland Garros are the most by any tennis player not named Rafael Nadal. His 75% success rate at Roland Garros is a wonder as is his career 49-2 record at the French Open. During the 1978 French Open, Borg went 127-32 in total games played or a winning percentage of 80%. From 1979 to 1981, he won a remarkable 41 consecutive sets at the French Open, a record not even Nadal has ever matched.
3. Ivan Lendl
Originally from the former Czechoslovakia, Lendl became an American citizen later in his career. For his career, Lendl won a total of 8 grand slam titles, three of which came at Roland Garros. He made the French Open finals in four consecutive years from 1984 to 1987 and won thrice, beating John McEnroe, Swede Mikael Pernfors and Mats Wilander. Lendl played in a total of 15 Fren Open tournaments and made the finals five times during his illustrious career. He won a total of 29 clay court titles.
4. Mats Wilander
In 1982, unseeded Mats Wilander defeated #3 seed Guillermo Vilas in four sets to win the French Open title. The win made the Swede only the second tennis player to win in Roland Garros during his first try. Wilander beat Ivan Lendl in 1985 and Henri Leconte in 1988 to win his second and third French Open titles. Wilander would make the finals two more times but would lose on both instances. He won a total of 20 clay court titles, including the three wins at Roland Garros.
5. Novak Djokovic
Like Federer, Djokovic played in the same era as Nadal. Currently the #1 ranked tennis player in the World, Djokovic has won a total of 15 grand slams but only one of them came at Roland Garros in 2016. That victory enabled Djokovic to complete the career grand slam. But those aren’t the reasons why Djokovic is high on our list. Djokovic ended two of Rafael Nadal’s unbeaten streaks on clay. He defeated the Spaniard in the 2013 Monte Carlo Masters, ending Nadal’s 46-game winning streak on clay. Also, Djokovic ousted Nadal in the quarterfinals of the 2015 French Open, ending Nadal’s streak of five consecutive titles at Roland Garros.
6. Roger Federer
Like Rod Laver, clay isn’t Federer’s forte. Considered as one of the greatest tennis player of all-time, if not the greatest, Federer won only one French Open title. He did so in 2009 after finishing as runner-up to Rafael Nadal in the previous four years. The Swiss master also made the French Open finals in 2011, giving him six for his career. Federer has also won a total of 11 clay court titles, not really impressive in number but when you factor in the fact that he played in the same era as Rafael Nadal, that’s a huge accomplishment
7. Gustavo Kuerten
Recently inducted to the Hall of Fame, “Guga” was one of the top French Open players during his era. Kuerten won the French Open thrice during his career, ruling Roland Garros in 1997, 2000 and 2001 by beating Sergi Bruguera, Magnus Norman and Alex Corretja, respectively. Those three are the only Grand Slam titles in the Brazilian’s career and those were the only times he also reached the French Open final. His win in 1997 made him the first tennis player from Brazil to win a grand slam singles title in the Open era.
8. Thomas Muster
Muster was one of the top tennis players of the 1990’s. The former world #1 from Austria was known as the “King of Clay” during his peak. Muster won the 1995 French Open title to become the first Austrian to win a tennis grand slam. During the 1995 season, Muster won a total of 12 singles tournaments, a record which he shares with Roger Federer since 2006 when the Swiss master accomplished the feat. Muster had a 77% win percentage on clay, one of the highest in history. He won a total of 40 clay court titles during his career.
9. Rod Laver
Laver was the #1 ranked tennis player from 1964 to 1970, four years before the “Open” Era and three years after its start. Laver won a total of 11 grand slam titles in his career and remains as the only tennis player to win a calendar grand slam twice- in 1962 and 1969. Although the clay court wasn’t his best surface, Laver won two French Open titles and made the finals at Roland Garros in 1968. The Australian became the first tennis player since Lew Hoad in 1956 to win the “Clay Court Triple” by winning in Paris, Rome and Hamburg.
10. Guillermo Vilas
Vilas played competitive tennis from 1969-1992. The Argentine won the 1977 French Open title by defeating American Brian Gottfried 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 in his only win at Roland Garros. Vilas reached the French Open Finals on three other instances but he lost to Bjorn Borg twice and Mats Wilander once. Vilas once owned the record for most consecutive wins on clay at 53 which he set in 1977. Rafael Nadal would later break that record. He also won a total of 49 clay court titles and only Nadal has won more.