One could argue that the hardest feat in all of competitive sports is to win a Grand Slam in the sport of tennis, and that is the argument I'm going for in this blog. Here's why.
The Australian Open, The French Open, Wimbledon, and The U.S. Open - a tennis player has to win all four of these events in the same category in the same calendar year, to log just one Grand Slam. Imagine that; each tournament attracts the absolute best of the best in the world of tennis every year, in one of the most athletic and cardio-challenging sports we have going these days. And oh, by the way, each tournament lasts a grueling two weeks, with several rounds per event.
On top of that, all the courts are different. So it's not just a matter of perfecting your individual or doubles' skills against every other capable opponent in the world. A Grand Slam winner also has to be great on both hard courts (Australian and US), clay courts (Roland Garros/French), and on grass courts as well (Wimbledon); basically every viable court surface playable. Talk about versatility.
Then consider the competition, and remember that tennis is largely an individual pursuit (I'm not AS impressed with the doubles' part of the Grand Slams, although they are quite fun to watch, and certainly have their merits). Not many other sports put so much pressure on one single individual to obtain the sports' highest honor. Certainly football, basketball, hockey, soccer, cricket... the list goes on of all the major sports that get so much world wide attention, but have several parts making up the whole of the pinnacle of the sporting effort, to shoulder up the sport's most prestigious honor and trophy.
You can only point to boxing, MMA, golf, some Olympic events and only a few other sporting pursuits that can even be in the same conversation of how much pressure is put on a single individual to obtain greatness within the confines of the pro game. And, of those, let's be honest, golf, while mentally taxing is no where near the level of athletic challenge as tennis.
Elite Company, Indeed
Leaves very small company indeed for just how difficult the world of tennis actually is. And to obtain the grand slam, well, it truly amazes me when a player actually does it, considering the odds against them. It takes enormous talent, skill, pose, and mental sharpness to stay that good, all year round.
Steffi Graf was the last tennis player to complete an actual Grand Slam, what in today's world is referred to as a quadruple grand slam, because it is so rare a feat. She did this in 1988, and aside from Women's doubles, and men's and women's wheelchair events, the feat hasn't been matched since.
It gets a little confusing, as headlines today read "Grand Slam winner" after a pro wins one of the four major tournaments listed above. The Majors have become synonymous with grand slam. Just keep in mind though, for a true grand slam, you gotta win all four in the same calender year, the quadruple.
Even still, I'll leave you with the men's and women's all time Grand Slam Champions (Major wins, not quadruple) running list (for singles). Hopefully, the next time you catch a Serena or Federer, a Nadal or a Sharapova with the words 'Grand Slam Champion of such and such year' going forward on ESPN, you just might have a whole new respect for what they accomplish. For the world of tennis fandom is quite small and exclusive to some respect, and it doesn't surprise me one bit that most don't have much a clue of the heft and weight an accomplishment like that really is. (I'll put an asterik next to the player's still actively in the sport) ----
Men's All Time Grand Slam Champion's running count (singles):
- *Roger Federer - 17
- Pete Sampras - 14
- *Rafael Nadal - 14
- Roy Emerson - 12
- Rod Laver - 11
Women's All Time Grand Slam Champion's running count (singles):
- Margaret Court - 24
- Steffi Graf - 22
- *Serena Williams - 19
- Helen Willis Moody - 19
- Chris Evert - 18
- Martina Navratilova - 18
- Billie Jean King - 12
- *Maria Sharapova - 5