Djokovic vs Borg on clay?

Who is a better clay court player?

  • Djokovic

    Votes: 32 26.2%
  • Borg

    Votes: 90 73.8%

  • Total voters
    122
This is NOT about who the second clay GOAT is as that is not in dispute since numbers are numbers. But this is rather who do you think is the better clay court player taking into account their achievements relative to the competition and era.
 

swordtennis

G.O.A.T.
Borg 6 French Opens.
Both tactical masters.
Sure djokovic stands no chance.
Shoes.
On the other end Borg needs a few more inches in height and some heft.
Also the funky bachhand needs modernization big time.
 

GabeT

G.O.A.T.
It’s a good thought experiment to realize the difficulty (futility?) of comparing across eras.

if we just look at outcomes the answer is easy. Both reached 6 FO finals but only Borg won all of them and it took Novak 17 attempts to reach the 6 finals while Borg did it in less than half the tries. case closed? Maybe.

but at the same time Borg never faced anyone of Nadal’s caliber. Would Novak have more FOs and be considered the greater of the two if Nadal wasn’t around? All hypotheticals.

maybe we mean what would have happened if they could play each other on clay. But in that case what are we thinking of? Does Novak “downgrade” to Borg’s racket and string technology? Or the other way around? how do we even asses that?

but there is one thing we know about the two. Borg was, relative to Novak, much less capable of change and of dealing with not being the front runner. Had they played at the same time, and assuming such personality traits remain unchanged, Novak would have been in a better position to learn and adapt to his adversary and plan for the long game.
 

GabeT

G.O.A.T.
Agreed. Just the fact that Bjorn played with a wood racquet makes this impossible to compare.
And it goes beyond the racket itself. Having such limited equipment (by today’s standards) and a much more limited view of what physical training meant or could do means that even if you had a time travel machine simply giving Borg a modern racket wouldn’t help him much. He’d need to relearn tennis.
 
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Arak

Hall of Fame
Borg, to me personally will always be the real goat. I don’t think any of the big3 really matched or exceeded his achievements.
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
Kids, Novak's career-best RG run fell short of 65% in GW%, and that was vs. a gimme draw in '16 with Murray as his toughest opponent who despite going one extra round was probably a notch below his '15 version, hence the respective # of sets lost vs. Djoker. By contrast Borg almost averaged 70% in his own FO runs, with the two highest %s of the OE still under his belt despite Rafa's historic dominance.

I don't think y'all realize just how absolutely comical it is to envision Novak or for that matter Fed toppling Bjorn friggin' Borg at RG when either guy probably loses to '92 Courier or '93 Bruguera in 4 sets tops. Now Novak does hold a big edge in longevity/consistency over his fellow 2-timers, which is why I now rate him about equal to Jim and just below Sergi (simply more of a natural) among GCOATs even though I still think those two had a higher peak on dirt, but vs. Ice-Borg himself? Better stick to Wimbledon/grass comparisons.
 

NoleFam

Talk Tennis Guru
You're comparing Borg on his best surface to Djokovic on his worst surface. This one is a no brainer as it is solidly Borg, plus his winning percentage is much higher. A better comparison would be on grass, which happens to be the 2nd best surface for both.
 

GabeT

G.O.A.T.
Kids, Novak's career-best RG run fell short of 65% in GW%, and that was vs. a gimme draw in '16 with Murray as his toughest opponent who despite going one extra round was probably a notch below his '15 version, hence the respective # of sets lost vs. Djoker. By contrast Borg almost averaged 70% in his own FO runs, with the two highest %s of the OE still under his belt despite Rafa's historic dominance.

I don't think y'all realize just how absolutely comical it is to envision Novak or for that matter Fed toppling Bjorn friggin' Borg at RG when either guy probably loses to '92 Courier or '93 Bruguera in 4 sets tops. Now Novak does hold a big edge in longevity/consistency over his fellow 2-timers, which is why I now rate him about equal to Jim and just below Sergi (simply more of a natural) among GCOATs even though I still think those two had a higher peak on dirt, but vs. Ice-Borg himself? Better stick to Wimbledon/grass comparisons.
This simply tells us that Borg was better relative to his competition at clay than Novak at his. Don’t think anyone debates that. But it tells us nothing of how they would fare if they were to meet in time travel tennis. Which, I assumed, was the underlying question here.
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
This simply tells us that Borg was better relative to his competition at clay than Novak at his. Don’t think anyone debates that. But it tells us nothing of how they would fare if they were to meet in time travel tennis. Which, I assumed, was the underlying question here.
In time-travel tennis (provided that you give either guy a couple weeks to prepare) Borg would still be the overwhelming favorite on clay. Even before this year's RG I gave Novak the edge over Fed on dirt largely cuz our boy (I'm still on Team Djoker, in case you haven't noticed) is the better grinder, but Borg is probably the greatest grinder of 'em all even over Rafa, due to his superior footspeed (yes, for real - Stefanki for one would back me up on this) and more classic dirtballing which placed almost mind-numbing patience and consistency over all else (I'm guessing you've seen clips of the old FO matches). In other words Djoker's biggest "weapon" would be all but neutralized by Ice-Borg, or put another way, the Serb would be more liable to pull the trigger out of frustration vs. the Swede than the other way around.

And Novak's middling topspin rates on both wings would be no match for Borg's which would rival if not even surpass Rafa's with modern sticks (I can't locate it right now but an old rpm study did unsurprisingly rate the Swede 1st). That's really Djoker's biggest Achilles' heel especially on clay: the guy's crazy reliability makes him dangerous and tough to beat everywhere, but he doesn't have a fail-safe weapon to fall back on a la the Lendl/Courier/Bruguera/Kuerten/Borg/Nadal FH or even the Guga BH for that matter at least on clay, leaving him more vulnerable to a zoning opponent like Fed in the '11 FO SF.

I suggest you check out that last link if you want a more in-depth analysis. Apart from Nadal the only OE dirtballers I can see pushing Borg to the limit (read: 5 sets) at RG with non-flukey frequency are (peak) Lendl, Courier, Bruguera and Guga, plus Wilander assuming he adopts an all-out attacking mentality a la the (justly celebrated) '88 USO final or, even better, like Borg's old nemesis Panatta. But even these guys would be serious underdogs. Don't see Novak's (or Fed's) HC-style game doing as much damage against the arguable BCOAT.
 

GabeT

G.O.A.T.
In time-travel tennis (provided that you give either guy a couple weeks to prepare) Borg would still be the overwhelming favorite on clay. Even before this year's RG I gave Novak the edge over Fed on dirt largely cuz our boy (I'm still on Team Djoker, in case you haven't noticed) is the better grinder, but Borg is probably the greatest grinder of 'em all even over Rafa, due to his superior footspeed (yes, for real - Stefanki for one would back me up on this) and more classic dirtballing which placed almost mind-numbing patience and consistency over all else (I'm guessing you've seen clips of the old FO matches). In other words Djoker's biggest "weapon" would be all but neutralized by Ice-Borg, or put another way, the Serb would be more liable to pull the trigger out of frustration vs. the Swede than the other way around.

And Novak's middling topspin rates on both wings would be no match for Borg's which would rival if not even surpass Rafa's with modern sticks (I can't locate it right now but an old rpm study did unsurprisingly rate the Swede 1st). That's really Djoker's biggest Achilles' heel especially on clay: the guy's crazy reliability makes him dangerous and tough to beat everywhere, but he doesn't have a fail-safe weapon to fall back on a la the Lendl/Courier/Bruguera/Kuerten/Borg/Nadal FH or even the Guga BH for that matter at least on clay, leaving him more vulnerable to a zoning opponent like Fed in the '11 FO SF.

I suggest you check out that last link if you want a more in-depth analysis. Apart from Nadal the only OE dirtballers I could see pushing Borg to the limit (read: 5 sets) at RG with non-flukey frequency are (peak) Lendl, Courier, Bruguera and Guga, plus Wilander assuming he adopts an all-out attacking mentality a la the (justly celebrated) '88 USO final or, even better, like Borg's old nemesis Panatta. But even these guys would fall short more often than not. Don't see Novak's (or Fed's) HC-style doing as much damage against the arguable BCOAT.
This is all hypothetical but don’t see much to support this idea. by today’s standards tennis as played by Borg was much slower and
they barely moved. look at Birg-Lendl at the FO in YouTube and compare, say, with Nadal Novak in FO13. Also Borg never faced balls at the speed they are played today. The speed of serves, for example, has particularity risen at RG (see here: http://www.physics.usyd.edu.au/~cross/PUBLICATIONS/46. GrandSlamStats.pdf)

but what exactly are we assuming? Borg with modern equipment or Novak with wooden raquets?
 

Rago

Hall of Fame
Voted for Djokovic. Green clay, right?

But seriously, Borg is miles ahead of Djokovic on clay.
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
This is all hypothetical but don’t see much to support this idea. by today’s standards tennis as played by Borg was much slower and
they barely moved. look at Birg-Lendl at the FO in YouTube and compare, say, with Nadal Novak in FO13. Also Borg never faced balls at the speed they are played today. The speed of serves, for example, has particularity risen at RG (see here: http://www.physics.usyd.edu.au/~cross/PUBLICATIONS/46. GrandSlamStats.pdf)

but what exactly are we assuming? Borg with modern equipment or Novak with wooden raquets?
I don't take racquets into account in these hypotheticals. Even advanced club players can play decently with a woodie after a day's practice, and to think these legends would have trouble making the transition with ample time to prepare is just beyond silly.

Also you really shouldn't rely on those old clips of '80s FO matches for comparison as grinding with a capital G was the norm on clay back then. Try some grass/hard-court matches instead, like this one:


Or this, with none other than Roscoe Tanner whose fastest serves would be up there with anyone's today (they had to be more strategic with their hitting back then, which is why you don't see 140 mph bombs even from Roscoe all the time):


And even on clay you can catch glimpses of Borg's freakish speed:


I also included several vids here that show these old-timers hitting harder (on average) than ever in their 40s, 50s and even 60s:


Taken individually none of these means much regarding how these guys would adapt to the modern game, but taken together they all but debunk this cartoonish notion that these ATGs of yore would struggle to win a major or even make the top 10 today. Great players would be great in any era, with anything on anything against anyone.
 

ChrisRF

Hall of Fame
As you said, clearly Borg by the numbers, and that’s what counts in the end.

For further comparison I think it’s a good measurement to pretend the opposite: What if both players changed eras and opponents?

And then I think against Borg’s field Djokovic would easily get at least 6 RG titles, while Borg wouldn’t win anything big in the Nadal era.

In a potential H2H match I don’t see how Borg could have troubled Djokovic.

But that’s just how sport evolves. The best football/soccer teams of the 70s would have no chance to win anything big today as well.
 

GuyForget

Rookie
hmm, so Borg could have beaten Nadal at RG 2021 ..
70s was powder puff tennis, in fact all tennis was until Becker-Curren W85 aside from Lendl's forehand +Tanner's serve. Not saying playing with wooden racquets is easy, but it's a different game, like badminton or sth
 

Arak

Hall of Fame
As you said, clearly Borg by the numbers, and that’s what counts in the end.

For further comparison I think it’s a good measurement to pretend the opposite: What if both players changed eras and opponents?

And then I think against Borg’s field Djokovic would easily get at least 6 RG titles, while Borg wouldn’t win anything big in the Nadal era.

In a potential H2H match I don’t see how Borg could have troubled Djokovic.

But that’s just how sport evolves. The best football/soccer teams of the 70s would have no chance to win anything big today as well.
The numbers are all what we have, unless you have a time machine. By the numbers, Borg is ahead of everyone else on both grass and clay.
 

NoleFam

Talk Tennis Guru
In time-travel tennis (provided that you give either guy a couple weeks to prepare) Borg would still be the overwhelming favorite on clay. Even before this year's RG I gave Novak the edge over Fed on dirt largely cuz our boy (I'm still on Team Djoker, in case you haven't noticed) is the better grinder, but Borg is probably the greatest grinder of 'em all even over Rafa, due to his superior footspeed (yes, for real - Stefanki for one would back me up on this) and more classic dirtballing which placed almost mind-numbing patience and consistency over all else (I'm guessing you've seen clips of the old FO matches). In other words Djoker's biggest "weapon" would be all but neutralized by Ice-Borg, or put another way, the Serb would be more liable to pull the trigger out of frustration vs. the Swede than the other way around.

And Novak's middling topspin rates on both wings would be no match for Borg's which would rival if not even surpass Rafa's with modern sticks (I can't locate it right now but an old rpm study did unsurprisingly rate the Swede 1st). That's really Djoker's biggest Achilles' heel especially on clay: the guy's crazy reliability makes him dangerous and tough to beat everywhere, but he doesn't have a fail-safe weapon to fall back on a la the Lendl/Courier/Bruguera/Kuerten/Borg/Nadal FH or even the Guga BH for that matter at least on clay, leaving him more vulnerable to a zoning opponent like Fed in the '11 FO SF.

I suggest you check out that last link if you want a more in-depth analysis. Apart from Nadal the only OE dirtballers I can see pushing Borg to the limit (read: 5 sets) at RG with non-flukey frequency are (peak) Lendl, Courier, Bruguera and Guga, plus Wilander assuming he adopts an all-out attacking mentality a la the (justly celebrated) '88 USO final or, even better, like Borg's old nemesis Panatta. But even these guys would be serious underdogs. Don't see Novak's (or Fed's) HC-style game doing as much damage against the arguable BCOAT.
While I agree that Borg is better on clay, I disagree about Djokovic not being able to push him at RG or defeat him. He pushed Nadal to the brink in 2013, the best clay courter of all time who uses full poly, won only 9 less points in 2012 and beat him twice in 2015 and 2021. I don't see Lendl, Wilander, Bruguera or Courier defeating Nadal twice at RG. You also said Djokovic doesn't have a fall back weapon like the forehand of others so it makes him vulnerable and that's why he lost in 2011. He beat Federer in a baseline duel in 2011 at RG and went forehand to forehand with him successfully, but the problem was he wasn't able to serve like Federer. That's really where the match was lost because he couldn't serve out the 4th set, and his forehand was brilliant that day over his rather average backhand. He can adapt his game to about any opponent even on clay and we saw him outhit Nadal in 2021. So yea overall, his forehand may not be considered the point ender like some others but I disagree that that makes him vulnerable.
 

ibbi

Legend
Borg quit playing tennis in his mid 20s, and he has almost twice as many clay court titles as Djokovic (16-12 if you only count top level titles, and consider Har-Tru to be a clay court) You can say "But if not for Nadal...", but... Borg WAS his eras Nadal. No comparison.
 

Sudacafan

Bionic Poster
Powder puff you say?

This kind of performance was really impressive. But I would say that these players handicap when compared to the way that tennis is played these days has nothing to do with tennis racquets sizes, materials, or strings.
I am sure that none of the players active today could play with Laver’s outrageous collar type of t shirt.
 

SonnyT

Hall of Fame
The first time, Borg. But as they play more and more, the advantage shifts to Djokovic, because he always learns something, that helps him the next times they play.
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
While I agree that Borg is better on clay, I disagree about Djokovic not being able to push him at RG or defeat him. He pushed Nadal to the brink in 2013, the best clay courter of all time who uses full poly, won only 9 less points in 2012 and beat him twice in 2015 and 2021. I don't see Lendl, Wilander, Bruguera or Courier defeating Nadal twice at RG. You also said Djokovic doesn't have a fall back weapon like the forehand of others so it makes him vulnerable and that's why he lost in 2011. He beat Federer in a baseline duel in 2011 at RG and went forehand to forehand with him successfully, but the problem was he wasn't able to serve like Federer. That's really where the match was lost because he couldn't serve out the 4th set, and his forehand was brilliant that day over his rather average backhand. He can adapt his game to about any opponent even on clay and we saw him outhit Nadal in 2021. So yea overall, his forehand may not be considered the point ender like some others but I disagree that that makes him vulnerable.
Obviously I was talking peak to peak in one lose-or-go-home showdown. In an old-fashioned H2H series Novak would get his share of wins, but then that's true for just about every other elite dirtballer. And even here he'd need some help from Borg. If GOATing Ice-Borg shows up it's a guaranteed W for him.

Also you make too much of Novak's two Ws over Rafa at RG. '15 and '21 were by far Nadal's worst CC seasons since '05 where he barely made the 60% Club with only 60.7% and 60.1% in GW% respectively. That's not just subpar by his own sky-high standards, but scarcely above or roughly equal to what former non-FO champs averaged in their best seasons. I seriously doubt this Rafa would be very competitive vs. the actual multi-FOers who at their best turned in more dominating performances. Hell I'll go a step further and say peak Mac, Boris, Stefan and Pistol would have a good chance of beating him as well (especially Mac).

'13 was definitely a stronger Rafa, but again by his own standards a rather mediocre one with 62.9% for the season (padded with favorable stats from Vina del Mar, Sao Paulo and Acapulco before IW) and 60.9% at RG. Compare that with Courier's 66.1% and 63.8% in the '92 and '93 CC seasons proper, or Bruguera's historic 68.8% at '93 RG (including that battle of the titans vs. said Courier) or even 64.3% at '94 RG. And both boast a big topspin-heavy FH which would let him dictate rallies on clay even vs. top-notch baseliners like Novak, plus loads of shot tolerance that could rival Borg's and Nadal's. Still like my earlier call of these guys beating Djoker peak to peak in 4.

You did make a strong point about Novak losing only 9 more points in the '12 final as that was no doubt one of Rafa's 3 or 4 best versions - that year he did win a career-best seasonal 68.2%, but underperformed at RG with "only" 71.0% vs. 75.7% in '08 and career-high 76.8% in '17 - but the match still ended in 4, no? Big matches like this are usually decided on big points and that's precisely what happened here.

I dunno if you've ever perused that career overview of Novak's GW%s on clay, but the one constant that jumps out at you is that his #s are remarkably steady without fluctuating much. By contrast Ivan, Jim and Sergi had at least one or two monster seasons where they displayed historic dominance, and while Guga was more up and down the type of comprehensive beatdown he delivered on Ferrero at '01 RG is a feat Novak has yet to duplicate on a fellow 60%er of a similar caliber (yes this JFC was at least a notch above '15 Rafa, with a whopping 66% vs. 60.6% at RG).

Again Novak's rock-solid consistency comes at a cost. I mean even Rafa was a bit too defensive early in his career which is why he was dropping sets to the likes of Grosjean, Mathieu and (past-prime) Hewitt, but once he found the right balance between O and D starting around '07 he became the unstoppable GCOAT he know him as today. Yes the extra aggression also meant an extra loss here and there, but that extra risk-taking would come in handy come RG where he could/would go out without worrying about the rest of the season. You may have noticed that Novak's fellow multi-FOers would improve upon their seasonal GW%s at RG, often by startling degrees, but with him it's almost the opposite. Much of that has to do with Novak's robotic (I don't mean that pejoratively) game which demands next to no deviation from the mean, yes, but it also strongly suggests that he doesn't have the extra gear to fall back on, which is confirmed by my admittedly subjective eye test. You qualified his loss in the '11 SF earlier by pointing to Fed's red-hot serve, but serve is part of the game even on clay and I was factoring it in when I said the other multi-FOers would've been better equipped to survive the onslaught. And they're simply more natural dirtballers to begin with, hence my ranking them higher except, again, Courier who now stands right next to Djoker.
 

JackGates

Legend
This is NOT about who the second clay GOAT is as that is not in dispute since numbers are numbers. But this is rather who do you think is the better clay court player taking into account their achievements relative to the competition and era.
Why is this even a question? Borg was nr.1 clay courter by far in his era. Djokovic is nr.2 but not even close to Nadal.
 

GabeT

G.O.A.T.
I don't take racquets into account in these hypotheticals. Even advanced club players can play decently with a woodie after a day's practice, and to think these legends would have trouble making the transition with ample time to prepare is just beyond silly.

Also you really shouldn't rely on those old clips of '80s FO matches for comparison as grinding with a capital G was the norm on clay back then. Try some grass/hard-court matches instead, like this one:


Or this, with none other than Roscoe Tanner whose fastest serves would be up there with anyone's today (they had to be more strategic with their hitting back then, which is why you don't see 140 mph bombs even from Roscoe all the time):


And even on clay you can catch glimpses of Borg's freakish speed:


I also included several vids here that show these old-timers hitting harder (on average) than ever in their 40s, 50s and even 60s:


Taken individually none of these means much regarding how these guys would adapt to the modern game, but taken together they all but debunk this cartoonish notion that these ATGs of yore would struggle to win a major or even make the top 10 today. Great players would be great in any era, with anything on anything against anyone.
there’s a difference between “playing decently” and competing at the highest levels. Are you saying Novak would easily adapt to play with wooden raquets at Slam final level in a hypothetical time travel match? Don’t think that’s ever been tested but would disagree. These players finetune their game to very exacting specifications. I recall Novak talking about very small changes to his racquet weight and explaining that at his level that was huge issue. Now imagine telling him that he needs to play at the top of his game but without the racket or string tech he is used to. Don‘t think it works that way. Same with Borg who famously was unwilling to give up his racquet even after technology had passed him by.

as for physical conditioning I’m not saying in Borg’s time they just sat in lounge chairs and only hit back what came near ;). But when you watch a match like Borg-Lendl at FO I think we can see clear differences with how the game is played today. I don’t have the time or technical skills to create a video showing match play from different eras side by side but if you look at these two matches online (Borg-Lendl and Nadal-Djokovic) I think the difference is clear.

as for whether a prior era ATG would struggle today it probably depends on who and what you have in mind. If Borg were transported in time with his racket to this day and age I think he would be destroyed. So you need to imagine a parallel Borg that shows up in our time as a child and then learns tennis from the beginning with modern technology and techniques. But that’s a really extreme hypothetical!
 
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