The 2021 US Open is the eleventh time in history a tennis player arrives in New York with the hopes of winning a Calendar Grand Slam. What was the success rate in the past and how did Djokovic’s “ancestors” fare on their opportunities to make history?
1933 – Jack Crawford, lost in the final to Fred Perry 3-6 13-11 6-4 0-6 1-6
The first-ever shot at this legendary achievement was wasted by the Australian Jack Crawford. He was 25-years-old at the time and before the year 1933, only had two titles at the Australian Open (back then called the Australian Championships). An asthmatic, Crawford suffered in the heat and humidity of New York, which could explain the lopsided scoreline in the last two sets.
1938 – Don Budge, won the tournament and completed the Calendar Grand Slam
After his successful attempt at the glory, Don Budge turned professional (which back then made him ineligible for Grand Slam anymore). The craziest thing is that he actually won six majors in a row, from Wimbledon 1937 to the U.S. Championships 1938. Budge lost just one set on the way to the final (to Gene Mako in the final). He didn’t focus only on singles either, taking the whole Triple Crown at that tournament (singles, doubles, and mixed doubles).
1953 – Maureen Connolly, won the tournament and completed the Calendar Grand Slam
Just like in the case of Crawford, the first woman to attempt this feat was also an Australian, Maureen Connolly. Perhaps the most impressive thing about her run is that she lost just one set across all four events (to Philippe Chatrier’s wife, Susan). Connolly was still 18 at the time she completed the first-ever Calendar Grand Slam in women’s tennis, and won all nine major finals she played before a horse-riding accident forced her to finish her competitive career. Imagine what could have been had she played a bit longer.
1956 – Lew Hoad, lost in the final to Ken Rosewall 6-4 2-6 3-6 3-6
In the middle of the 1950s, one of the biggest tennis rivalries was between Australians Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad. The former came out the victor at the 1955 Australian Championships, while the latter managed to take revenge the year after. Rosewall didn’t compete in Paris (which Hoad won over Sven Davidson), and was again beaten by his rival in the final of Wimbledon. Who had the last laugh? Rosewall, who managed to stop his opponent from making history a couple of months after. The two really were the best tennis players in the world at the time, winning multiple Grand Slam tournaments together in doubles, including this particular 1956 U.S. National Championships.
1962 – Rod Laver, won the tournament and completed the Calendar Grand Slam
Rod Laver managed to become the third player to achieve this feat in 1962. His opponent in three of the four finals (all but Wimbledon) was Roy Emerson. Laver handled the pressure well and lost just two sets in Flushing Meadows. He would soon turn professional, but come back to make history again with the beginning of the Open Era…
- 1969 – Rod Laver, won the tournament and completed the Calendar Grand Slam
It was much tougher this time, at one point Laver was even two sets to one down against Dennis Ralston. He recovered and went on to clinch the title beating a series of legendary opponents – Roy Emerson, Arthur Ashe, and Ken Rosewall. To see another man attempt the biggest possible achievement in tennis, we had to wait 52 years.
- 1970 – Margaret Court, won the tournament and completed the Calendar Grand Slam
But just the year after, Margaret Court, who still holds the record for the most Grand Slams won in tennis history (24 in singles, 64 across all three disciplines), became the second woman to win all four in the same season. Court lost just one set in New York, to Rosie Casals in the final. She was able to bounce back well for the deciding set and took it 6-1.
- 1984 – Martina Navratilova, lost in the semifinals to Helena Sukova 6-1 3-6 5-7
The first time a singles player who was attempting a Calendar Grand Slam didn’t make it to the final. Martina Navratilova entered the 1984 Australian Open (held in November/December back then) on a 70-match win streak that started in February and included winning Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the US Open. Still the longest winning run in Open Era history, it was suddenly broken by Helena Sukova in the semifinals. Navratilova won 26 of her 32 matches against her compatriot, but couldn’t take this most important one. Had she won, she would have faced Chris Evert in the final – the same opponent she had beaten in the championship match at the previous three Slams.
- 1988 – Steffi Graf, won the tournament and completed the Calendar Grand Slam
None of the other players before her had the opportunity to do it (as tennis wasn’t part of the Olympics), but Steffi Graf’s run is even more remarkable because of the additional title at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Another thing that has to be noted – all the other Calendar Grand Slams were completed on two surfaces – grass in Australia, London, and New York, and the Parisian clay. Graf’s achievement is perhaps even more spectacular because of the addition of hard courts to the professional circuit. The German lost just one set at the 1988 US Open, defeating Gabriela Sabatini 6-3 3-6 6-1 in the championship match.
2015 – Serena Williams, lost in the semifinals to Roberta Vinci 6-2 4-6 4-6
Crawford’s, Hoad’s, and even Navratilova’s loss made sense – they took on one of their most-talented peers and biggest rivals. This will be remembered as one of the upsets of the century as Roberta Vinci – who had not even taken a set off Serena Williams in any of their other meetings – played a brilliant slice and dice game and used classic tactics like serve-and-volley to frustrate the American. She would go on to lose her only Grand Slam final to her compatriot Flavia Pennetta. Had Williams prevailed, she would have been a massive favorite in the finals as well.
- 2021 – Novak Djokovic?
Taking the pressure that lies on Djokovic in New York into consideration, it’s actually pretty shocking how well everyone before him fared. Williams was the only player whose loss came as a shock, and even she still managed to make the semifinals. That said, the Calendar Grand Slam likely wasn’t such a big deal back in the 1930s. We live in the era of the internet and the media attention most of the previous campaigns were getting is nothing compared to what Djokovic will have to find his way through.
Another unique aspect of this run is that he’s basically trying to settle the GOAT debate once and for all, which would make this victory all the more special. 67% of the previous Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon champions managed to make it, although it drops down to 60% if you look only at the men’s side.
Embed from Getty Images