Rod Laver's Calendar Grand Slam: What Does It Mean In Today's Game?
The history of any sport is filled with magical moments and hallowed records. Baseball has the home run record and Ted Williams' 56-game hitting streak. The Chicago Bulls' 72-10 record is the standard teams strike for every season in basketball. American football has the Miami Dolphins' 1972 perfect season and the Pittsburgh Steelers' record six Super Bowl titles. There are more, but these are some of the highlights.
One of it's most hallowed records is Rod Laver's calendar Grand Slam in 1969. To win all four major slam tournaments in a single year is something players have been trying to duplicate for the last four decades, but without any success. Some have come close. Federer has nearly done it twice by winning the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open, but lost in the finals of Roland Garros to Rafael Nadal.
The most recent attempt was by Rafael Nadal who became the first man to win three consecutive slams in a calendar year since Laver's magical season. Nadal won Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, but failed to win the Australian Open. What he did though was win on three different surfaces which is something that is becoming increasingly difficult.
But what does Laver's Grand Slam mean today? What does it mean when there have been drastic changes to court surfaces over the years? Back in 1969, three of the four surfaces were played on grass which heavily favored a serve and volley player of Laver's caliber.
These days there are three distinct surfaces. The clay of Roland Garros, the grass of Wimbledon, and the hard courts of both the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. Even the two hard court surfaces are different enough that they each have their own uniqueness. They are not different surfaces entirely, but enough so that it's obvious one is slower than the other.
Besides the differences in court surfaces, there are an array of other factors that tie into a question like this.
While the effort, mental fortitude and pressure required to win all four slam titles in a calendar year is substantial these days, back in 1969 it was much different.
In Laver's day, the media pressure was just a fraction of what it is today. These days players give hundreds of interviews instead of dozens in a given year. They endure appearances for sponsors and appear in dozens of ads and commercials. The scrutiny today is like a giant spotlight in the dark.
Maybe the most significant difference of all is the importance placed on the slam titles then as opposed to now.
In many ways, the slams mean everything now. Though Masters series titles hold significance, it's generally acknowledged that a player's career is defined by how many slam titles they hold at the end of their career, but it was not always that way.
The slams were always very important, but the heavy significance that is placed on them today was similar to the media coverage; a fraction of what it is today.
Players played in many more events at the time which is how a player could manage to win well over 100 titles in a career. Because of the serve and volley style of play, players would often play well into their 30s at a very high level of play.
However one of the biggest, if not the biggest problem is the aura surrounding any hallowed record from almost any sport including tennis.
Records that stand for decades end up being praised by generation after generation leave little room for objectivity after a certain period of time. They are so universally praised and stand as such a glowing achievement within a sport that few want to say anything against it for fear of diminishing what it means in a historical context.
I'm not here to make Laver's achievements during the magical season in 1969 appear easy or over-hyped, but duplicating his achievements in this day and age is something else entirely.
If a player were to do it now, it would stand as a much greater achievement compared to Laver's and for good reason. Winning against what is a greater pool of international talent than in Laver's day, and on such a variety of surfaces, and playing styles means that such an achievement would be monumental to say the least.
If someone were to do the impossible and win the calendar slam they would easily eclipse Laver's achievements, but how does Nadal and to some extent Federer's best year(s) compare to Laver's season?
I personally say they are nearly equal on par with Laver's season. They kind of set the new standard for what you can strike for in a season, at least until someone actually achieves the calendar slam. Who knows? Maybe some day we will all bear witness to such an amazing event.
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