Chasing a Grand Slam: It’s Rarer Than You Think

Most fans know about the tennis Grand Slam: winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in the same calendar year.

But for something so well known, it is an exceedingly rare feat.

On the men’s side, only Don Budge in 1938 and Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969 have achieved it. Few have come particularly close to matching them since. But this year, Novak Djokovic, with his win over the weekend at Wimbledon, is three-quarters of the way there.

Aside from Budge, Laver and Djokovic, only two other men, Jack Crawford in 1933 and Lew Hoad in 1956, won even the first three Slam events. (Both did nearly get their Slams in the U.S. Open, losing in the final, Crawford to Fred Perry and Hoad to Ken Rosewall.)

Since Laver’s last Slam, only three men won even the first two events before Djokovic this year, Mats Wilander in 1988, Jim Courier in 1992 and Djokovic himself in 2016.

On the women’s side, too, the Grand Slam is rare, with only Maureen Connolly in 1953, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988 sweeping the four events.

Perhaps because of the difficulty of winning the Grand Slam, a less formal “Serena Slam” was coined after Serena Williams won the four events consecutively from 2002-03, but not in the same calendar year. Williams did it again in 2014-15. She was actually beaten to the accomplishment by Martina Navratilova, who did it in 1984-85.

Djokovic has the only Serena Slam for men, getting it in 2015-16. He could well have completed another on Sunday, had he not defaulted from the U.S. Open last fall as the top seed in the fourth round after accidentally hitting a lineswoman with a ball struck in anger.

There is also the easier-to-attain career Grand Slam, in which a player wins each Slam event at some point in a career. On the men’s side, this adds Perry, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi and the modern triumvirate of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic to the ledger.

Increasing the difficulty of completing a Slam of any sort is the different surfaces the tournaments are played on. Players as great as Pete Sampras and John McEnroe never won the French Open on clay, for example.

Besides the U.S. Open, where Djokovic will go for the Slam starting on Aug. 30, there is still the men’s singles competition at the Tokyo Olympics that begin on July 24. Djokovic has said he is undecided on whether to play in the Olympics for Serbia. If he won a gold medal and the U.S. Open, the feat would be called the Golden Slam. Only Graf in 1988 has done it, but tennis was not part of the Games for the Grand Slams of Budge, Laver, Connolly and Court.

As Nadal and Federer have faded and younger stars have been slow to emerge, Djokovic occupies a dominant position in the men’s game at age 34.

Djokovic lost five sets in his seven matches at the Australian Open and six sets at the French. But at Wimbledon, he dropped just two, and despite losing the first set of the final in a tie break to Matteo Berrettini, he was never in serious difficulty. He is 34-3 on the year.

Djokovic is listed as the favorite for the U.S. Open at even money, indicating that bettors and oddsmakers give him about a 50 percent chance to win it. (He is even money for the Olympics, too.)

Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and plenty of other players will stand in the way. But the chance of seeing something this year that no man has done since 1969, and no woman since 1988, is very real.