Grand Slam Tennis
The ultimate dream of any pro tennis player is to win the 4 major Grand Slams in one calendar year, a feat only a few elite players have ever achieved.
But who? And what’s the history of the Grand Slam? What about the surface played on and the balls used?
Get the full Grand Slam guide below…
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Tennis Grand Slams
Tennis is widely played and watched. It is one of the most popular and most loved of all sports worldwide and the importance of the Grand Slam in tennis is second to none.
So, let’s find out all about the Grand Slam!
What is a Grand Slam in Tennis?
The Grand Slam is a combo of four tournaments known as Majors in the tennis world.
The tournaments include
- US Open
- Australian Open
- French Open.
These tournaments are the most coveted and eagerly awaited annual tennis events.
The winners receive the highest prize money, ranking points, public admiration and media attention.
The Grand Slam also offers the largest size and length of field, and the highest number of ‘Best Of’ sets for male players, which is five.
The Grand Slam itinerary starts with the Australian Open, which begins in mid-January. The French Open (also called the Roland Garros) runs from late May-early June. Then comes the mighty Wimbledon from June-September. The US Open is played from September-September.
Each of these four tournaments runs for two weeks.
Generally, the US Open and the Australian Open are played on hard courts. The French Open takes place on clay and Wimbledon is played on grass.
Wimbledon is the oldest of all Grand Slam tournaments. It was founded in 1877, followed by the US Open in 1881, the French Open in 1891, and the Australian Open in 1905. Interestingly, the French tournament wasn’t part of the Grand Slam majors until 1924-25. In 1925, all four championships were designated as Grand Slams.
These four tournaments were previously operated by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and not by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) or the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). However, the WTA and ATP do examine a player’s performance at Majors and award ranking points accordingly.
Achieving a Grand Slam refers to winning all four Majors within a single calendar year. The player can win any of the five Grand Slam tournament events, including men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles. In doubles, one player can achieve Grand Slam title with different partners, or a single team can complete it together.
How did the Term "Grand Slam" Originate?
Interestingly, the term ‘Grand Slam’ was inspired by the 17th century Whist Family card game! The word ‘Slam’ was used for winning all the small tricks.
In the 19th century, the term Grand Slam was introduced when a player won all the tricks, including the small ones.
This rule became part of a revamped 1925 version of the Whist game, which became immensely popular in both the US and the UK.
As a term, ‘Grand Slam’ wasn’t directly inspired by the card game itself but from golf (from which tennis has taken many of its terms and customs).
In 1930, Bobby Jones won all the four major championships, including two American and two British tournaments. This victory was known as winning the Grand Slam.
The first use of the term ‘Grand Slam’ in tennis is attributed to New York Times writer John F. Kieran.
It seems that Kieran was the first to use it in describing the winning of all four majors in a calendar year. Around two months later, sports columnist Alan Gould used it in the same context.
History of the Grand Slam
Before the Grand Slams, tennis was first played in 12th century France.
Tennis was originally played using the palm of the hand and a leather ball. At the time it was called Jeau de Paume, or ‘a game of the palm’.
The modern form of the sport became popular in 19th century Britain.
Similarly, there are many interesting facts about the origination of Grand Slam.
Today, it is the most sought after of all titles in the tennis world, however the elite status of the Grand Slam Majors didn’t exist until 1924/25 when their reign began.
This was when the Australasian, French, British, and American tournaments became the International Lawn Tennis Federation’s four Majors.
Prior to 1925, the French tournament was open to French tennis club members only. Moreover, before that year, the ILTF recognized only three events as the premier international tennis events: Wimbledon, the World Covered Court Championships, and the World Hard Court Championship.
The World Hard Court Championship was held once in Brussels and then in Paris, whereas the World Covered Court Championships took place in different locations.
In 1913, New Zealander Tony Wilding won all three earlier Majors in one calendar year.
Since 1925, it has been possible to complete a Grand Slam multiple times and in most disciplines throughout a player’s career.
However, this wasn’t be possible between 1940-1945 because World War II caused disruptions in Wimbledon, and the French and Australian Opens.
Between 1970 and 1985, there weren’t any mixed doubles held in Australian tournaments, while in 1986 the Australian Open wasn’t held at all in any discipline.
According to Phil Dent, skipping Majors, particularly the Australian Open, wasn’t unusual at that time. It became significant only after major titles were given consideration when determining players’ rankings.
That’s why many players never played the Australasian Open or amateur tournaments at all, such as the Doherty brothers, Bill Johnston, Maurice McLoughlin, William Larned, René Lacoste, Henri Cochet, Beals Wright, Bobby Riggs, Ted Schroeder, Budge Patty, Manuel Santana, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzales, and Jan Kodeš. Conversely, Brookes, Jaroslav Drobný, Ellsworth Vines, Orantes Ilie Năstase and Björn Borg played them once.
Previously known as the Australian Championships, the Australian Open was renamed in 1969.
That year, the tournament became open to all players and professionals (who were barred from playing the traditional circuit). Still, except for the tournaments held in 1969 and 1971, some of the most prominent tennis players didn’t take part in this championship until 1982.
This was primarily due to the tournament’s inconvenient timings, as it took place during the Christmas and New Year holidays, along with low prize money, and the difficulty and expense of travel.
George MacCall’s National Tennis League prevented players from entering the Australian Open because of insufficient guarantees. The league employed players including Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Pancho Gonzales, Fred Stolle, Roy Emerson, and Andrés Gimeno.
As far as the current four tournaments are concerned, Don Budge was the first player to win all the four Majors in a single year, in 1938.
So far, just 17 players have accomplished this feat and only six in the prestigious Singles discipline.
Three players have won multiple majors, including:
· Rod Laver, who achieved it twice in men’s singles
· Margaret Court achieved it three times in two different disciplines: once in singles and twice in mixed doubles.
· Esther Vergeer achieved it twice, both times in Women’s wheelchair doubles.
There are four junior disciplines of the Grand Slams: the boys’ and girls’ singles and doubles. However, these offer limited opportunities to acquire a Grand Slam.
Players between 13-18 years old can participate in the junior category, but it’s clear that the older participants have a physical advantage. In a junior discipline, only Stefan Edberg has managed to complete the Grand Slam.
Which Grand Slam Tournament is the Most Prestigious?
Although all the Majors of a Grand Slam hold equal importance, Wimbledon is seen by some as the most prestigious.
This is partly because it has the longest history as it was the first of these championships to be played.
Wimbledon tends to attracts the most public attention and is often a favorite among tennis players. American player Sam Querrey once referred to it as the equivalent to golf’s iconic Masters and the best tournament in tennis.
Let’s take a look at the main features of the four Grand Slam tournaments.
Wimbledon – All England Club, London
Wimbledon is the most famous and oldest tennis tournament worldwide. The first Wimbledon tournament was held in 1877.
The first Wimbledon match was played on the All England Club’s grass lawns, located outside London, England.
Even today, Wimbledon is played on grass courts, which is one of the longest-standing traditions of this tournament.
Wimbledon matches are often attended by members of the British Royal Family and celebrities, and the all-white dress code for players along with strawberries and cream for attendants are also traditions associated with this historic tournament.
Wimbledon is a two week tournament like the other three Grand Slam majors.
It takes place in late June-early September, and every year it attracts an array of top-ranking tennis players.
The All England Club remains the most popular Center Court for Wimbledon matches and has hosted its most iconic and memorable games.
US Open – National Tennis Center, New York
Generally, the US Open is the last Grand Slam tournament of the season.
It is also the most popular professional US tennis tournament and first took place in 1881.
At the time, it was called the US National Championship. The US Open takes place in a lively, exuberant, and fun-filled environment, reflecting the overall ambience of its host city New York.
The US Open is held at the US National Tennis Center located in Flushing Meadows, NY. Many fans stay in Manhattan to enjoy the city’s outstanding shopping, dining, and entertainment when they aren’t attending a match.
Like Wimbledon, the US Open also attracts a lot of celebrities.
The tournament is held every year from late September-early September which makes it the perfect way for tennis fans to bid farewell to summer and welcome the fall.
The event is attended by tens of thousands of people from around the world. In 2018, it had a new attendance record with more than 800,000 tennis fans turning up to watch their favorite tennis players compete for the coveted title.
Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne
The Australian Open is generally the first event of the Grand Slam calendar year, and appears on the bucket list of tennis fans worldwide. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is the biggest annual sporting event.
The event dates back to 1905, and since 1988 it has taken place every year at Melbourne Park.
The Australian Open always takes place on a hard surface and in recent years has been dominated almost invincibly by Novak Djokovic, who has won the men’s finals eight times since 2008.
He currently holds the record for the most singles titles at the Australian Open.
French Open – Roland Garros, Paris
The French Open, held in Rolond Garros, Paris, is the only tournament played on clay courts.
Clay is a unique surface to play on because the ball moves more slowly.
Some players excel on this surface. Rafael Nadal, for example, known as ‘The King of Clay’, has won 13 French Open Championships.
Taking place in the beautiful city of Paris, tennis fans can also enjoy the fantastic food, stunning architecture, charming cafes, and city environment. The city serves as the ideal backdrop for an equally unique tournament.
The tournament is 128 years old and is home to countless memorable games of tennis and epic moments.
It has historically taken place between May-September, but in 2020 it took place in the fall. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 event will happen between September-October.
Who has Won all 4 Grand Slams?
Winning all four Grand Slams has remained a primary objective of every tennis player.
Many players have achieved this outstanding feat, some even multiple times in various disciplines.
Here are the top players who have won all four Grand Slam tournaments:
Steffi Graf – 1988
German Steffi Graf is one of the greatest tennis player of all time. Graff has won the most titles of any tennis player in an Open Era with 22 titles to her name. Incredibly, she achieved her Golden Grand Slam aged just 19 in 1988.
The same year, she completed the Super Slam and became the only player to do so within 12 months.
1988 became known as her career’s golden year as she won all four Grand Slam Majors, the WTA Tour Championship, and an Olympic Gold Medal at the Olympic Women’s Singles held in Seoul.
Graf later won four more Grand Slams in the 1993-94 calendar year. This achievement makes her the only women’s singles player to have won four consecutive titles in her career twice.
Graf is the only singles player (female or male) to win at least four titles at each Grand Slam.
This record shows her versatility and ability to adapt to different surfaces.
Graf is considered the greatest female singles player of all time, although Serena Williams may break some of her records, at least as far as the number of titles is concerned.
Margaret Court – 1970
Margaret Court still holds the record for most wins by any singles player, winning 11 Australian Open titles and 24 singles titles.
The Australian has achieved three Career Slams.
She won Wimbledon three times, and the other three Grand Slam Majors five times. Furthermore, she is one of only three women’s singles players to win six consecutive Grand Slam titles. Court won them between 1969 and 1971.
In 1963 she achieved her Career Slam with Wimbledon and became one of the three youngest players to do so, at the age of just 20.
What makes Court a legendary player is that she is one of the only three tennis legends to have accomplished the incredible feat of winning the Boxed Set, and is the only player ever to win it twice.
Serena Williams is close to achieving this feat as she is short of just two wins to complete a Boxed Set. However, Court remains peerless as she won a Boxed Set both before and after the Open Era.
Rod Laver – 1962 and 1969
Many consider Rod Laver to be the greatest men’s singles player of all time. Laver won 11 Grand Slam titles in his career and is the only player to date to complete the Calendar Slam twice.
Laver completed his first Career Slam in 1962 at the US Open, at the age of 24.
Seven years later, he completed another Career Slam in 1969. The seven year gap was due to a ban from participating in Grand Slam tournaments for five years for joining professional tennis.
Laver went on to win the Career Slam right after the ban was lifted.
Although Roger Federer has the record for most Grand Slam titles with a total of 17 titles to his name,
Laver still remains the last male singles player to have all won all four titles together.
Maureen Connolly Brinker – 1953
Maureen Connolly won her Calendar Slam in 1953, and won nine singles titles in total.
Interestingly, Conolly’s opponent in three of the four finals she played in 1953 was Doris Hart.
Another interesting trivia fact is that the American won all four finals in 1953 without losing a single set, making her accomplishment even more remarkable.
Connolly lost only one set in her first Grand Slam final and won the remaining eight in straight sets. Furthermore, before winning her Calendar Slam, Connolly had won three Grand Slams and won two more just one year later.
She is also the first female player to complete a Career Slam in 1953. Her rival, Doris Hart, achieved this in 1954.
To date, Maureen Connolly remains the youngest player in the world to complete a Career Slam at the age of 18. Steffi Graf is the second-youngest player as she completed her Career Slam at 19.
Don Budge – 1937
Don Budge is still regarded as one of the most remarkable and iconic players in tennis history for several reasons.
The American is the first ever tennis player to win four Majors in one year, winning the sport’s first Calendar Slam in 1938.
He is also still the only men’s singles champion to win six consecutive Grand Slam titles.
He first achieved this feat in 1937 at Wimbledon, and his winning spree continued until 1938 when he won the US Open.
Budge won his Career Slam at the age of just 23, but was forced to take a break from Grand Slams because, due to World War II, most most of these tournaments were postponed between 1940-1945. However, Budge won Pro Slam tournaments in the meantime.
He won eight titles in his career: four singles, two mixed doubles, and two doubles.
Let’s check out some other great Grand Slam wins below.
To date, the best winning percentage record is held by the Swedish player Bjorn Borg with 141 wins and 16 losses (89.8%).
Borg is one of the greatest major events players.
Within his nine year career that lasted from 1973 to 1981, Borg won 90% of all his Grand Slam matches.
In his career, Borg participated in only one Australian Open, in 1974, and lost in the third round. He reached the quarterfinals of all other Majors at least once in his career, but didn’t win the Grand Slam.
In the Doubles discipline,
Australian players Ken McGregor and Frank Sedgman were the first to achieve the Grand Slam title in 1951. In 1984, American duo Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova won it.
In the Mixed Doubles discipline, Australians Ken Fletcher and Margaret Smith Court won the Grand Slam in 1963.
Players who won a personal Slam in Doubles discipline with two different partners include Maria Bueno in 1960, Owen Davidson in 1967, and Martina Hingis in 1988.
American Serena Williams and Australian Lew Hoad are the only other singles players, except for Crawford, to have the opportunity of winning the Grand Slam at the US Open but they failed to do so.
Hoad lost against Ken Rosewell in 1956 while the unseeded Roberta Vinci defeated Williams in 2015.
List of Grand Slam Men's Singles Champions
Roger Federer holds the record of the most singles titles won by any male player in tennis history with 20 Major singles titles. He also holds the record for the most Wimbledon titles with eight wins.
The only male player to win a Grand Slam in a single calendar year twice is Rod Laver. Laver’s first win was in 1962, and his second was in 1969.
Don Budge is the only man in tennis history to win six consecutive Grand Slam singles titles. He set this record by winning all Majors, from Wimbledon 1937-US Open 1938.
Rafael Nadal is the only male player with double-digit titles of one specific Grand Slam tournament. He has won 12 French Open titles, and overall has won 19 Major titles.
Novak Djokovic holds the record for winning all Majors simultaneously on three different surfaces. He has an all-time record of eight Australian Open titles, and has won 17 Major titles overall.
Pete Sampras made records with his 14 Major titles until his retirement in 2002. Out of the 14 titles, seven were from Wimbledon.
In the 1920s, Bill Tilden became the first male player to win maximum Majors with 10 titles.
Ken Rosewell has the record of winning 15 Pro Slam titles along with the record of 23 overall Major titles, including Amateur and Pro circuits.
The first male player in tennis history to win all Major titles twice in his career was Roy Emerson. He is also the only tennis player to win a Career Slam in both singles and doubles discipline.
Andre Agassi was the first male player to complete a Career Slam on three different surfaces and the first player ever to win the Career Golden Slam.
Agassi won four Grand Slams and the singles gold medal in the Olympics. The full list can be seen here
Which is the Most Demanding Grand Slam to Win?
Wimbledon and the French Open are two of the most challenging Grand Slam tournaments to win.
This is because of the surfaces on which these tournaments are played.
Wimbledon is played on grass courts, widely regarded as particularly challenging as the surface can affect players’ timing, rhythm and flow.
Additionally, on a grass court points are very quick, which often frustrates players.
The season is also relatively short, and by the time the players become comfortable playing on grass, the hard-court season starts.
Grass generally rewards risk-takers, and can also make the playing surface slippery. Players can find it extremely difficult to find their pace, given its variable bounciness.
In contrast, the French Open is played on clay courts.
Clay is a rigid surface and is ideal for athletic players who have excellent all-round court skills and tolerance for the surface’s inherent sluggishness.
Clay tournaments are arguably more challenging to win, as it is very difficult to win with a specific strategy.
On the other hand, the grass surface is fast where the balls stay low and sail when the player slices, depriving the opponent of a lot of response time.
The French Open is often referred to as the battle of endurance, as the best players can play rallies of more than 50 hits by keeping the ball in play.
The ball bounces higher on clay and there’s a lot of time to chase it, making it hard to pull the ball away.
Typically, French Open games take well over four hours to finish.
Clay can neutralize serves and aggressive groundstrokes, so players need to utilise different strategies to win during the long matches.
Moreover, clay courts are generally more expansive and offer bigger areas on which to play, making it difficult for the player to finish a point. This can cause more errors, and drain the players’ energy much quicker than other surfaces.
Clay is also known for the ball’s bad bounces as it skids after hitting the lines, making consistent play much more difficult.
For this reason, clay is a physically demanding surface as the court speed is relatively slow.
The ball produces a higher and loopier bounce affecting high-power servers like Roger Federer and John Isner. All these factors mean that clay courts require greater stamina, mental and physical strength, and endurance levels.
Players skilled in baselines, movers, and returners are generally more successful on clay courts, such as Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal. Borg has won the French Open six times, and Nadal, known as The King of the Clay, has triumphed 10 times.
Which Tennis Balls Are Used at Grand Slam Tournaments?
The neon yellow tennis ball is used universally on almost all courts and tournaments.
However, in each Grand Slam tournament, a different type of sponsor manufactures the fluorescent ball.
Here’s a brief overview of the brands that make the four Grand Slam majors’ tennis balls.
Currently, Japan-based manufacturer Dunlop provides tennis balls for the Australian Open.
In 2018, a commercial deal was signed between the Melbourne major and Dunlop under which the company will supply tennis balls for the tournament for the next five years.
Prior to their agreement, Wilson manufactured tennis balls for the Australian Open.
Between 2011-2019, Babolat manufactured tennis balls for this clay court tournament. Prior to 2011, Dunlop was the supplier.
However, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer expressed dissatisfaction over the balls’ quality.
They claimed the balls made by Babolat bounced higher and moved faster than the ones made by Dunlop.
In its defence, Babolat maintains that the balls are perfect for clay surfaces, and any discrepancies are due to the French Open’s court conditions.
Nevertheless, from 2019 onwards the deal with Babolat ended and Wilson started supplying tennis balls for the French major.
Since 1902, the Slazenger heritage shop has sponsored tennis balls for Wimbledon.
Their partnership is probably the longest in the history of sporting goods. Wimbledon’s tennis balls are revered for their outstanding quality, exceptional bounce, and excellent visibility on the grass court.
Slazenger uses Loughborough University‘s sports scientists’ expertise to manufacture its products.
The Wimbledon balls are created using a special Ultra Vis Dye that makes them optimally visible for not only players, but also spectators.
Moreover, Slazenger uses its patented Hydro-guard technology to develop the cloth for the ball.
This cloth can repel around 70% more water than an average tennis ball.
Arguably, no other tennis ball can match the Wimbledon balls’ quality.
Every year, approximately 54,000 tennis balls are used during the two-week long tournament that is often referred to as the Mecca of tennis.
Wilson has sponsored tennis balls for the US Open for the last forty years. Traditionally, the US Open was played on a grass court, but the tournament took place on a clay court in 1977.
Finally, in 1978, the tournament switched to hard courts after the concept was introduced by Flushing Meadows. Despite the transition, Wilson continued manufacturing tennis balls for the event.
Interestingly, at the 2016 Australian Open, a survey was held in which tennis pros were asked about Wilson’s tennis balls’ performance. Around 80% responded that their balls are perfect for hard surfaces which may be why they have been used at the US Open for so long.
Grand Slam Surface Slam
Before 1968, only amateurs could take part in the Grand Slam tournaments.
From 1968 onwards, the tournaments were opened to amateurs and professionals. This marked the start of what is known in tennis as the Open Era.
Several important aspects of the Open Era make it different from the modern era of tennis.
From the beginning of the Open Era up until 1977, tennis was played on only two surfaces: clay and grass, with all four tournaments held on these surfaces.
However, the French Open was the only tournament where the grass court wasn’t used in the Open Era.
In 1978, a third unique playing surface was introduced in the Grand Slam tennis: the hard-court.
The credit for this goes to the US Open.
By 1988, the Australian Open had also switched from grass to hard court, with the Australian tournament adopting a slightly different kind of hard court compared to the US courts.
From 1978 onwards, the era of modernization had started. Having the three fundamentally different surfaces in Grand Slams is distinctive to the modern era of tennis.
In the modern era, three female and one male players have won three consecutive Grand Slam events in a single calendar year: Martina Navratilova (1984), Steffi Graff (1993-95-96), Serena Williams (2002), and Rafael Nadal (2010). Interestingly, each player won three consecutive Slams on three different surfaces.
After 1988, the tournaments’ configurations changed and players had to win three straight Slams in a single calendar year on three different surfaces.
Moreover, post-1988, the surface slam is achieved only through specific combinations: either starting with the Australian Open and ending the year with Wimbledon, or starting the calendar year with the French Open and ending it with the US Open.
So, the term ‘Surface Slam‘ refers to adapting and mastering three different surfaces, grass, clay, and hard courts in a single calendar year. This makes the feat all the more daunting to achieve.
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