Tennis - Origins of the Grand Slam
What is a “Grand Slam”
The tennis “Grand Slam” consists of the four most difficult major tournaments on the international circuit prepared by the International Tennis Federation: the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
It is specifically these four tournaments as they are the only ones on the circuit that last a fortnight (excluding qualification) consisting of 128 competitors, where the men’s competitions (single and double) are played to the best of five sets, and the only ones to have a mixed doubles competeion.
To successfully complete a Grand Slam a player must win all four tournaments in the same year, if they win only three it is know as a “Small Slam”. If a player manages to consecutively win all four, but not in the same year, it is called a “Non-Calendar Year Grand Slam” and winning all four at some point during their playing career is a “Career Slam”. During the Olympic Games years there is also the chance of winning the “Golden Slam” – the Grand Slam tournaments plus the Olympic Gold.
Origins of the “Grand Slam”
The term "Grand Slam" does not originate with tennis. It was initially a term used to describe a bridge hand that contained all the tricks.
The term was first applied to tennis in 1933 by a New York journalist. That year, after winning the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, the Australian Jack Crawford lost in the United States Forest Hills final to Fred Perry. It was a first missed chance at a “Grand Slam”. The expression was then forgotten until 1938 when a large red-haired American had the idea to try to win the four major international tournaments – Australian Open, French Open (Roland Garros), British Open (Wimbledon) and the United States Open (Forest Hills). His name was Donald Budge and he had just won the Wimbledon and Forest Hills Championships.
He said: "I looked at the history books, and saw that nobody had won the four major tournaments in one year. Not Tilden, Borotra, Cochet, Lacoste, or Perry. So I started the year with this in mind. And in Australia, I did not lose a set."
Budge was on the road to success, and, the American journalist Allison Danzig could happily use the term "Grand Slam" at the end of this famous 1938 season. Donald Budge won the four major tournaments without much problem. He also lifted the Davis Cup with the United States team. Budge did not lose an official match that season. The term "Grand Slam" was well merited in his case, as he literally left nothing for the other players.
What is a Grand Slam?
The Grand Slam and the Davis Cup
Donald Budge decided on these four tournaments, as the countries in question were the only ones at that point to have won the famous Davis Cup and the great champions that he names had all been great Davis Cup players. The travel that started early in the twentieth century to win this trophy, in effect allowed the first major tennis-men to participate, in passing, in the tournaments organized in these countries. It is because of the constant travelling for the Davis Cup - in America, Australia, Great Britain and later in France, that these four tournaments have become what they are today, i.e. the Majors
Tennis historians state that the era of the epic Grand Slam began in 1925. This is the year that the French Championship first became "international" - open to the best foreign players. It is a little harsh, it is true that no Grand Slam - in the sense that the journalist Danzig gave in 1938 - could actually be possible before 1925, but do not forget that there was indeed other opportunities for the champions of the time to achieve, at least, the equivalent of this feat. We must remember that at this time it took a three week boat trip to get to Australia: the expedition Down Under could mean one of two things for a European or American tennis player: a Davis Cup competition, or a near certainty to win the Australian Open Championships! Few players attempted the adventure.
Before 1925, a player who won the world championships on grass (at Wimbledon) and clay (in Paris until 1923), and who also won Davis Cup with his country, deserves to equal the great Donald Budge in the history books. Especially if all of those victories were claimed in the same year. And do not forget the Olympics, which from 1896 to 1924, welcomed tennis, and was an additional opportunity for players to distinguish themselves.
There has only ever been two male and three female players that has managed to win a Grand Slam: Donald Budge (1938); Rod Laver (1962 and 1969); Maureen Connolly (1953) Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988). Steffi Graf is the only player to have won the “Golden Slam” winning Olympic Gold in the same year. Martina Navratilova (1983-4) and Serena Williams (2002-3) are the only players to win Non Calendar Grand Slams. The lack of some of the biggest tennis names in this group shows just how hard it is to win a "Grand Slam" and why it is the "Holy Grail" that all players aim for.
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