Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic: Who fared better on the Juniors circuit?
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have established their status as three of the greatest men to have picked up a tennis racquet. With 61 Grand Slams between them, there is no doubt that any debate about the potential GOAT is incomplete without mentioning all three of them.
Before they dominated the ATP tour for almost two decades, the trio made life difficult for players on the Juniors circuit as well. But who was the best of the lot? Who won the most? Whose potential was obvious even back then? Here's everything you need to know about how the Big 3 fared as junior players.
Roger Federer - 5 Juniors titles including a Wimbledon boys' singles championship
Roger Federer is the one who played the most on the Juniors circuit among the Big 3. The Swiss played 98 matches across three years (1996-1998), winning 78 and losing 20, for a win percentage of close to 80%.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion won five titles during his time (two each on clay and hard, one on grass) as a junior player, including the 1998 Wimbledon boys' singles and the prestigious Orange Bowl. Seeded fifth at SW19, he won the tournament without dropping a set and defeated Georgia's Irakli Labadze in the final to lift his maiden junior Grand Slam title.
The former World No. 1 lost only one match on grass while winning nine (90% win percentage). On claycourts, he lost 13 matches while winning 33 for a win percentage of 72%. On the hard surface, the Swiss won 35 matches and lost only six for a win percentage of 85%.
Novak Djokovic - two Juniors titles and a career-high ranking of World No. 24
Novak Djokovic was not as successful as Roger Federer, winning only two titles across four years (2000, 2002-2004). But he had a better success rate, winning 56 matches and losing only 12 for a win percentage of 82%.
The Serb won the 2002 Prince Cup and the Internacional Pancevo, the former on hardcourts and the latter on claycourts. He reached the semifinals of the 2004 Australian Open boys' singles, but lost to seventh seed Josselin Ouanna. The World No. 2 also played at the 2003 French Open (first-round exit) and US Open (third-round exit) but could not make much of a splash.
The former World No. 1 reached a career-high ranking of World No. 24 as a junior player in February 2004. He won 24 matches on clay and lost only 5 (83% win percentage) while he won 22 of his 27 matchs on hardcourts (81% win percentage). On other surfaces, he lost only two and won 10 for a win percentage of 83%.
Rafael Nadal - Junior Davis Cup winner with Spain and runner-up at the Wimbledon boys' singles
Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, was somewhat of an anamoly. The Spaniard played only two tournaments on the Juniors circuit -- the 2002 Wimbledon boys' singles and the Junior Davis Cup.
Nadal reached the final in the former, falling to Algeria's Lamine Ouahab in straight sets in the final. He won the Davis Cup with Spain, winning all five of the singles ties he played in the event. Overall, the Mallorcan played 10 matches across 2002, winning nine and losing only one, for a win percentage of 90%.
That very same year, at the age of 15 years and 10 months, the 21-time Grand Slam champion played his first match on the ATP tour. Nadal defeated Ramon Delgado in the first round of the Majorca Open to become the ninth player in the Open Era to register an ATP win before the age of 16.
Three years later, at the 2005 French Open (two days after his 19th birthday), the World No. 4 defeated Mariano Puerto to win his first Grand Slam. In the process, Rafael Nadal became the first teenager to win a Major since Pete Sampras won the 1990 US Open.