Tuesday, February 03, 2015

In Good Company

Seeing Novak Djokovic join the "8 Club" is pretty impressive, although it does require some context. It's hard for younger tennis fans to wrap their heads around the fact that it was completely normal for pros back in the day to regularly skip the French (World Team Tennis was way more glam!) and Australian (on grass, a million miles away in the sweltering December heat Down Under) opens, but it bears repeating when you look at the all-time majors winners and see the likes of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe slipping below the current crop of players, who have simply had twice as many opportunities to win one.

Consider this:

  • 11-time winner Bjorn Borg only played the Australian Open once (in 1973) -- and even skipped the 1977 French, a tournament he still managed to win six times!

  • Jimmy Connors only played the Australian Open twice (in 1973 and 1974) and sat out the French from 1974-1978 (the height of his domination). 

  • John McEnroe missed the Australian Open until 1983 (he won four of his seven majors before then). 

  • Fellow seven-time champ Mats Wilander sat out the 1986 and '87 Australian.

  • Two-time U.S. Open champ Tracy Austin skipped the French Open the first five years of her pro career, only making it there twice post-sciatica when she was barely a threat. However, months before she won her first U.S. Open at 16 she ended Chris Evert's 125-match clay-court winning streak and then beat Sylvia Hanika to win the 1979 Italian Open -- then didn't even play the French. (Her mom felt she had missed too much school.) She also sat out the Aussie Open from 1977-1980, which included two of the three years she had the best chance of winning.

  • Martina Navratilova didn't play the Aussie Open from 1975 to 1979 and skipped the French Open from 1976 to 1980. (The Australian was played on grass!) 

  • Hell, even the Queen of Clay -- Christine Marie Evert -- missed the '76, '77 and '78 French(!), after having won it three times, so she could play sexy World Team Tennis. Also worth noting she won the Australian twice when it was played on grass.

  • An aversion to grass allowed Seles, Agassi and Lendl to miss a few majors, something you rarely see top players do now.

  • The games -- and equipment -- are so different now that it already doesn't feel like we're comparing apples to apples. But even taking that into consideration, when it comes to collecting Grand Slams, it's hard to imagine the players of the 1970s-early '80s Golden Age wouldn't have won even more if "the majors" were focused on as much as they are today.


    BW said...

    Not to mention the pre-1968 asterisk. Tilden, Budge, Laver, Rosewall, Gonzalez and their contemporaries could play the majors only as amateurs. Once they decided to try to make a living, they became ineligible.

    Mike in Asheville said...

    Totally agree; and you can say its comparing apples to oranges about most (all) other sports too. The equipment improvements, from shoes and rackets (or golf clubs) have changed the sport.

    Interestingly, the tennis ball itself has not been standardized. Each major uses a different ball, each with different nap and pressures. And those differences now have players switching rackets and tensions. Geez, I only had the Jack Kramer.

    But, the changes have made for ongoing enjoyment of the sport. New techniques providing great sport.

    charles said...

    And Margaret Smith-Dupont is fourth on the all-time Slams list (including doubles) despite never playing the Australian. Husband forbid it. She later divorced him and was with a woman for decades.