Three players who have beaten Federer, Nadal and Djokovic on their preferred surface
The GOAT debate has increasingly become centered around Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in recent times, as the trio have made themselves an inseparable part of tennis history with their continued dominance. What is particularly impressive about the Big-3 era is how each player has stamped their authority over one specific surface.
While Djokovic remains the man to beat on hardcourts, Nadal and Federer have shown that they can hold their own against anyone on clay and grass respectively. To put matters into perspective, 13 of the Spaniard’s 21 Slams have come on clay, 12 of the Serb’s have come on hardcourts and eight of the Swiss’ have come on grass — the most ever won by a player in each category.
It is fascinating, therefore, to see how many players have managed to defeat all three on their surface of choice, and as it turns out, not many have. Only three players have accomplished this feat in history, and here’s a look at who they are:
#1 Andy Murray
Andy Murray has the second-most wins against Djokovic on hardcourts and two wins over Nadal on clay
Andy Murray has scored two victories over Rafael Nadal on clay to date, doing so on both occasions at the Madrid Masters. The Brit defeated the Spaniard in straight sets in the final of the 2015 edition and the semifinals of the 2016 edition.
Against Roger Federer, the former World No. 1 has only one victory so far, but it came in what is probably the most important match of his career – the final of the 2012 London Olympics.
The 34-year-old has defeated Novak Djokovic eight times on hardcourts, the second-most by any player. Five of those wins have come in Masters 1000 tournaments (four finals) and one in a Grand Slam (2012 US Open).
#2 Dominic Thiem
Dominic Thiem beat Roger Federer in the only instance they faced off on grass
Dominic Thiem has met Roger Federer only once on grass so far — in the semifinals of the 2016 Stuttgart Open. The Austrian ended up shocking the top seed with a comeback victory in three sets and went on to win the tournament.
Thiem has scored four victories over Rafael Nadal on clay, the second-most by any player. Three out of those have surprisingly come in straight sets — the 2017 Rome Masters, the 2018 Madrid Masters and the 2019 Barcelona Open. In 2016, the World No. 51 bested the Mallorcan at the Argentina Open after staving off a comeback.
Against Novak Djokovic, the former US Open champion has two victories on hardcourts, both of them coming in three-setters at the ATP Tour Finals. In 2019, the former World No. 3 defeated the Serb in the group stage, while he prevailed over the World No. 1 in the semifinals of the 2020 edition.
#3 Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev has beaten Nadal and Federer once on clay and grass, and Djokovic thrice on hardcourts
Alexander Zverev’s sole victory over Rafael Nadal on clay came in the 2021 Madrid Masters, when he upset the 21-time Grand Slam champion in the quarterfinals. After defeating the top seed, the German went on to win the tournament to notch up his fourth Masters 1000 title.
The World No. 3 has also won only one match against Roger Federer on grass, at the 2016 Halle Open. The unseeded Zverev defeated the Swiss, who was the three-time defending champion, in the semifinals.
The 24-year-old has dwarfed Novak Djokovic thrice on hardcourts — twice in the Year-end Championships and once in the Olympics. In both the 2018 and 2021 ATP Tour finals, Zverev defeated the Serb and went on to win the tournament. He did so at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics too, defeating the World No. 1 in the semifinals to deny him the Golden Slam and went on to claim the gold medal himself.