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Sports Then and Now



Ranking the Most Successful Male Clay Court Players of the Modern Era 1

Posted on May 17, 2013 by JA Allen

rafafrench2008Heading into the French Open, the second major of the season, most players prepare diligently for their final hurrah on clay. It remains as probably the least understood and least appreciated of the court surfaces players endure each year.

If the truth be told, players who learn to play on clay and who embrace the surface’s forgiving nature generally become better, more successful all-around players than those who learn the game on grass or hard courts.

The typical clay court player excels in patience by learning how to develop points as well as excellent defensive skills.

For a long time it seemed that some players segregated their careers by either avoiding clay altogether or by playing exclusively on the red dirt. But with the start of the Open Era and the necessity to play on multiple surfaces, some players built successful all-court games using clay court expertise as the foundation.

These male players achieved a top ten ATP ranking, a winning percentage in excess of 70 percent on clay throughout their careers—as well as double digit title wins on clay. Most also won at least one French Open, although not all.

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Top Ten French Open Legends from Agassi to Borg 2

Posted on April 17, 2010 by JA Allen
Top two active French Open finalists, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Top two active French Open finalists, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

What is it about the red clay at Stade Roland Garros that lifts some players to great heights while stopping others dead in their tracks? Is it a lack of patience or mental acumen that causes some great players to shut down on the red dirt?

The fact remains that in order to get to the very top of the men’s game, you must find an answer to the clay courts at the French Open.

For this ranking first consider the number of times a man made it to the finals of the French Open as the demarcation of greatness. Next consider the wins against the losses within a given number of tries.

No. 1 Bjorn Borg––6 French Open Finals

Bjorn Borg won the French Open six times in six tries.

Bjorn Borg won the French Open six times in six tries.

Bjorn Borg still reigns supreme in the record books at Stade Roland Garros, even after he retired from the game at age 26 almost 30 years ago. The red dust became the soul of his game. No one before him or since has ruled the red clay in Paris more definitively than the man from Sweden.

Borg won 41 consecutive sets and holds the record at the French Open.

He won the French Open six times starting in 1974––followed by victories in 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, and 1981. He never lost in a French Open final.

If you think about how many more French Open titles Borg might have won had he continued, the mind boggles because no one was close to defeating him. But then, we will never know––nor should such thoughts linger when estimating his place in tennis history.

Borg’s winning percentage at the French Open was 96% (49-2).

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  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Drew Pearson: Mr. Clutch
      August 7, 2021 | 6:59 pm

      Drew Pearson

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is a former NFL wide receiver know as “Mr. Clutch” for his penchant for making big receptions at crucial moments of the game. After waiting for more than 30 years, he is finally earning his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the 2021 Hall of Fame Class.

      During his decade with the Dallas Cowboys, Drew Pearson had a habit of making the big catch at the right moment to help the Cowboys time and again snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

      The favorite target of Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, Pearson was widely recognized as one of the great receivers of his era. Though at the time of his retirement many expected Pearson to easily breeze into the Hall of Fame, his enshrinement was derailed by changes to the game which artificially inflated receiver stats and made the numbers he produced during a time when wide receivers weren’t catching 100 passes a season seem inferior.

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