Roger Federer's 10 Memorable Moments On Clay

  • Posted: May 04, 2019

Roger Federer’s 10 Memorable Moments On Clay remembers Federer’s key clay-court moments as he returns to the surface for the first time in three years at the Mutua Madrid Open

Some fans thought it would never happen again, but next week, Roger Federer will make his return to the European clay courts at the Mutua Madrid Open.

The 37-year-old skipped the past two clay-court seasons to give his body more time to rest and to prepare for the grass-court swing. But the Swiss will play at least two clay-court events this year, Madrid and Roland Garros, returning to the surface where, despite his lack of recent match play, he has been one of his generation’s best performers.

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I’m at a moment where I think it would be nice to do it,” Federer said in January when he announced his decision. “I can say I have missed it. I did the right thing skipping it last year, the year before as well, and the year before that I was injured. So I felt I wanted to do it again.”

Federer last played on clay on 12 May 2016 at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, where he lost in straight sets to then No. 15 Dominic Thiem. But Federer missed Roland Garros that year due to injury after 65 consecutive Grand Slam appearances.

To mark Federer’s return to the red dirt, takes a look back and remembers 10 of his key clay-court moments.

10. 2015 TEB BNP Paribas Open final, Federer d. Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 7-6(11)
The inaugural TEB BNP Paribas Open in Istanbul had the dream top seed and the dream champion. Federer swept the ATP 250 event, surviving two three-set battles with Spain’s Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman before beating Pablo Cuevas in the final.

His Istanbul title on 3 May 2015 remains his most recent triumph on clay. Federer has 11 clay-court titles (11-15 in finals), good enough for fourth among active players, and only two behind World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Spanish legend David Ferrer, who is retiring after Madrid.

Active Clay-Court Title Leaders



Rafael Nadal


Novak Djokovic


David Ferrer


Roger Federer


Tommy Robredo


9. 2002 Hamburg European Open final, Federer d. Marat Safin 6-1, 6-3, 6-4
Before Federer won Wimbledon or any grass-court title, he triumphed on clay and at the ATP Masters 1000 level. Federer won the Hamburg tournament when it was still a Masters 1000 event for only his third tour-level title.

The Swiss, then No. 14 in the ATP Rankings, beat No. 5 Marat Safin of Russia in the final, but in the quarter-finals, Federer gained one of his biggest clay-court wins, upsetting No. 7 Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil. It would be Federer’s only FedEx ATP Head2Head win against ‘Guga’ (1-2, all on clay), a former No. 1 and three-time Roland Garros champion.

Federer has since added 27 more Masters 1000 crowns, including his most recent at the Miami Open presented by Itau in March (d. Isner).

8. 2006 Internazionali BNL d’Italia final, Rafael Nadal d. Federer 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5)
Federer and Nadal have played 32 matches since they met in the 2006 Rome final. Yet the five-set contest that lasted more than five hours remains one of their greatest clashes.

Nadal had beaten Federer three weeks earlier at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, but Federer took an early lead by blanking the Spaniard in the first-set tie-break. Three sets of back-and-forth tennis followed, but Federer appeared on the rise as he led by a break, 4-1, in the fifth set. Nadal broke back but Federer still had two championship points on Nadal’s serve at 5-6, 15/40.

Read More: Rafa v. Roger: The Match That Cemented Their Rivalry

Two missed forehands, however, would help Nadal force a tie-break, where he beat Federer for the third time in 2006 and for the fifth time in six FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings.

I had a couple of match points. I pulled the trigger too early and ended up losing the match,” Federer said in 2011. “But I think the crowds were fantastic. I definitely played some of the best attacking tennis on clay I could play. He defends so well and makes you doubt.”

Watch Highlights From The 2006 Rome Classic

7. 2009 Mutua Madrid Open final, Federer d. Nadal 6-4, 6-4
Rafael Nadal was nearly unbeatable on clay. The Spaniard had won 33 consecutive clay-court matches, and had been 150-4 during his past 154 matches on the surface.

But Federer picked up more confidence against the Spaniard on clay by winning his first title of the season and his 15th Masters 1000 crown, tying Nadal’s tally. The Swiss broke Nadal once in each set, and more than doubled Nadal’s winner count (25 to 12). The Spaniard fought well despite having played a four-hour semi-final with Djokovic the day prior.

Federer and Nadal’s rivalry was still in its early stages, yet it was already the 16th time they had met in a final. Nadal led their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 13-7.

The confidence boost Federer gained in Madrid would prove vital weeks later at Roland Garros. Nadal, a four-time defending champion, fell to Swede Robin Soderling in the fourth round, and Federer, in his fourth final, won his first Roland Garros, completing the Career Grand Slam.

6. Federer’s Overall Success On Clay: Third-Best Win Percentage Among Active Players
Federer’s time on clay has been dominated by his rivalry with Nadal – and the Spaniard’s success in that FedEx ATP Head2Head series. But Nadal’s record against Federer on clay (13-2) has overshadowed the Swiss’ own impressive marks on the red dirt.

Federer has won 76 per cent of his matches on clay, third-best among active players.

Best Clay-Court Win Percentage Among Active Players


Win Percentage

Win/Loss Record

Rafael Nadal



Novak Djokovic



Roger Federer



5. Federer’s Best Years On Clay: 2005-09
Federer is 214-68 lifetime on clay, but he played his best tennis on clay from 2005-09, going 86-14, which includes his 2-9 record against Nadal. If you remove those 11 matches against the all-time great, the Swiss was 84-5 (.944) against everyone else.

Federer From 2005-09
2005: 15-2 (0-1 vs. Nadal)
2006: 16-3 (0-3 vs. Nadal)
2007: 16-3 (1-2 vs. Nadal)
2008: 21-4 (0-3 vs. Nadal)
2009: 18-2 (1-0 vs. Nadal)

4. 2007 Hamburg European Open final, Federer d. Nadal 2-6, 6-2, 6-0
The odds were stacked against Federer winning his fourth Hamburg title. The 20-year-old Nadal had won 81 consecutive matches on clay, was 5-0 against Federer on the red dirt and had already celebrated four tour-level titles in 2007. Nadal also had won 13 straight clay-court crowns.

The Spaniard raced to a 6-2 lead, putting him within a set of more perfection. Nadal was pouncing on short balls and broke Federer twice. But the Swiss regained momentum by breaking early in the second, and he raced through the third to win his 13th Masters 1000 title (fourth on clay). It was Federer’s first title in five tournaments, snapping his worst slump since becoming No. 1 in February 2004.

If I had to lose to anyone, Roger is the man,” said Nadal said, who avenged the loss in the Roland Garros final, beating Federer in four sets for the second consecutive year.

3. 2011 Roland Garros Semi-final, Federer d. Novak Djokovic 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5)
Novak Djokovic was having one of the best starts to a season in history. The Serbian had won 43 consecutive matches, including title runs at the Australian Open (his second) and four Masters 1000 events – Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome – to bring his title tally at the elite level to nine. Wins against Federer accounted for three of his 43 victories.

Djokovic also had beaten Federer in their past two Grand Slam semi-finals. But at Roland Garros, Federer, who hadn’t reached a clay-court final yet that season, ended Djokovic’s reign to reach his fifth Roland Garros championship.

Federer faced Nadal in the final for the fourth time in six years, but the Swiss fell short of his second Paris title, losing in four. The Spaniard beat Federer for the sixth time in eight Grand Slam finals and matched Bjorn Borg’s all-time Roland Garros title haul with six.

2. Federer’s Four Consecutive Roland Garros Finals
Federer fell short in three of them, but the consistency he showed by reaching four consecutive Roland Garros finals puts him in select company. Only four other players since 1924 have reached four or more consecutive Roland Garros title matches.

Consecutive Roland Garros Final Appearances

Final Appearances




Rene Lacoste



Rafael Nadal



Bjorn Borg



Roger Federer



Ivan Lendl



Rafael Nadal


1. 2009 Roland Garros final, Federer d. Robin Soderling 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4
The external pressure was growing, and the questions seemed louder every year: When would Roger Federer complete the Career Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros?

The 2009 season hardly seemed like the year. Federer was moved to tears after his Australian Open final loss to Nadal, and the Swiss didn’t win a title until the Mutua Madrid Open in May, beating Nadal for the Masters 1000 crown.

Roland Garros started rough as well. Federer fell behind two sets to none against German Tommy Haas in the fourth round, but recovered in a sprint to the finish 6-7(4), 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2. In the semi-finals, Federer faced more trouble, going down two sets to one against Juan Martin del Potro before again finding his way out of danger.

Federer had reached his fourth consecutive Roland Garros final. But for the first time, someone other than Rafael Nadal was waiting, and Federer seized his moment. The Swiss beat Nadal’s conqueror, Sweden’s Robin Soderling, becoming at the time only the sixth player to complete the Career Grand Slam, joining Fred Perry (1935), Don Budge (1938), Rod Laver (1962), Roy Emerson (1964) and Andre Agassi (1999).

The missing hardware in his trophy case was no more, and the questions about when or if Federer would win Roland Garros ended.

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