Why the French-Wimbledon Double Is So Daunting

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistJune 22, 2013

LONDON - JULY 06:  Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates winning match point and the Championship during the men's singles Final match against Roger Federer of Switzerland on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 6, 2008 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

They call it the Channel Slam, after the English Channel that separates England and France. It might as well be called the Mount Everest of tennis. 

This year, both Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams will try to win the elusive French Open-Wimbledon doubleheader, something they've both already accomplished in their legendary careers.

In the history of the men’s game, the Channel Slam has only been completed 15 times by 11 different men. In the women's game, it's been done 20 times by only 10 different women.

As time has gone by and the competition on both tours has become more intense, the Channel Slam Club has become more exclusive. Only four men (Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Nadal and Roger Federer) and six women (Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena) have completed the Channel Slam since the Open Era of tennis began in 1968.

Considering legends such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Justine Henin and Monica Seles didn't get a single Channel Slam in their careers, it's phenomenal that Nadal and Serena both have an opportunity to add to their total this year. That proves just how special they are.

Very few champions are even eligible for this feat because of the drastic change in surfaces. Not many tennis players feel at home both on clay and grass courts.

The clay is tricky for many Americans and Australians who grew up glued to the hard courts that populate their regions. The grass is foreign to a lot of tennis players, and since the grass season is so abbreviated (four or five weeks, depending on what tournaments you play), many players never find their footing on the tennis lawns. 

For many years, the clay-court specialists who were factors at the French Open would skip Wimbledon altogether! 

Though a combination of racket technology and surface-homogenization has decreased the severity of the transition throughout the years, it's still a leap that only a select group of players can make with ease.

For those rare tennis stars who can make the surface leap in stride, there's the issue of turnaround time.

After the Australian Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon, most of the top players take at least a few weeks off and don't resurface again until the Masters or Premier Mandatory events bring them out of hiding. This gives the winners of those tournaments time to rest, regroup and refocus for the next big task at hand.

The French Open winners get no such luxury before coming to Wimbledon. Not only are they faced with the unenviable task of adapting their games from clay courts to grass courts, but they also have to do so immediately.

With only two weeks in-between the Grand Slams, there is no time for indulgence or distraction. In fact, if the French Open winners want to play a grass-court warm-up event to prepare for Wimbledon, many of them get on a plane straight from the trophy ceremony and go to their next event! So much for savoring the moment.

It’s pretty absurd to see players such as Rafael Nadal practicing on grass at Queen’s Club a mere 24 hours after biting the French Open trophy, but that's the reality for the players who want to avoid a letdown.

There’s also the fatigue factor. Playing a Grand Slam is exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally. Few have the stamina and focus to win 14 Grand Slam matches in the span of six weeks. 

Winning two Grand Slams in one year is a difficult task for even the best players. Winning two Grand Slams on completely different surfaces in such a tight time frame is nearly impossible.

In fact, the only time both a man and a woman won the Channel Slam in the same year was 1925, when it was accomplished by both Rene Lacoste and Suzanne Lenglen. Safe to say, those were very different times.

Still, according to the oddsmakers, Williams is the favorite for Wimbledon, and Nadal is the second favorite, right behind Novak Djokovic. I have picked them both to win the tournament.

While they've both won the Channel Slam before, history tells us they still have a long way to go before they can do it again.