Column: Tennis' elite group
Originally Published: October 23, 2008 7:27 p.m.
Before 1938, there was not a tennis term known as the "Grand Slam", that is until it was invented by the first player to do it, Mr. Don Budge.A Grand Slam takes place when a tennis player is talented enough to win the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open Championships in the same year. Only five players have been able to accomplish this almost impossible task since the possibility existed in 1905 for men and 1922 for women. Those dates were when the Australian was added to the menu as the fourth major tournament for tennis players.Many have come close over the years. The challenge for players to not only be able to attend a full year of majors without injuries, but to go through a draw of 128 players and come out on top in all four majors is just daunting.Helen Wills, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Serena Williams. John Crawford, Fred Perry, Tony Trabert, Lew Hoad, Ashley Cooper, Roy Emmerson, Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer. All of these players never won all four majors in the same year, but they are in the elite group of winning three. So close, but so far.At the age of 23, Don Budge had the single most successful year of any player in tennis history to that time. In 1938 he won all four major singles, and then at Wimbledon that year he completed a trifecta by winning the singles, doubles and mixed events. The following year he turned pro and was then ineligible to participate. (For you younger tennis players, prior to 1968 there were two different forms of tournament tennis: one for amateurs and another for professionals, or players who accepted money.)Fifteen years after Budge accomplished his grand slam feat, in 1953 a very young female named Maureen Connolly, known as "Little Mo," became the first woman to run all four majors in one year.This 5-foot-3 mighty might was described as "an assassin" by one of her mixed doubles partners. She played in six majors and won them all. While riding her horse in the summer of 1954, Maureen was thrown from its back. The fall shattered her leg and tennis career. A sad end to what was the beginning of a great career. What was even sadder was her untimely death from cancer in 1969.Rod Laver, born one month before Don Budge finished the first grand Slam in tennis became the only player to do it twice: 1962 as an amateur and 1969 as a professional.The short 5-foot-8 lefty, who was one of the first players to crack heavy top-spins, was quoted as saying, "The time your game is most vulnerable is when you're ahead, never let up." Laver is still considered maybe the best tennis player to ever play the game.Maybe it's in the water, but another Australian, Margaret Smith (Court) won three majors in 1962, 1965 and then again in 1973. But after retiring in 1966 and having a family, she came back in 1970 to win all four majors and ended her career with 62 major titles.Steffi Graf was the last person to win a Grand Slam in 1988, but she put a new twist on it by also winning a gold medal at the Olympics that year. After that amazing year she said, "I never look back, I look forward." She is now married to Andre Agassi and they have two children. It's tough to wonder if she doesn't look back a little and smile as her kids ask what that part of her life was like.In doubles only one men's team has won a Slam - Frank Sedgman and Ken McGregor in 1951 - and three women which sounds weird, but it was Martina Navratilova and Pam Shirver in 1984 and Mario Bueno (with two partners) in 1960.In mixed doubles, once again Margaret Smith and Ken Fletcher pulled a slam in 1963, and Owen Davidson did it with two partners in 1967.Someone will do it again some day, but it will always be noted as an improbable dream.(Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 30 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 445-1331 or email@example.com)