Is It Time For a Fifth Tennis Major? China, Russia, South America...Who's Next?

Brett ThompsonContributor IJanuary 11, 2011

Borscht Grand Slam Flag
Borscht Grand Slam Flag

Should there be another Grand Slam Tournament?

It seems inevitable that tennis will add another Major. The world has gotten smaller yet tennis has grown exponentially. New markets around the world will demand recognition that only a Grand Slam can bring. As well adding a slam will add to tennis’s popularity and if managed properly could be a way to cut back on the number of tournaments required by the players.

Currently there are four Slams: Australian, French, Wimbledon and the US Open. But there are wide swaths of the tennis world that are not represented.

The Australian Open was the last Slam added in 1905 and was rarely visited by foreigners until the 1980’s—a logistical problem, and something that should be considered in GOAT arguments Borg only played the Australian Open once—1974.

The French Open began in 1891 and was called the French Closed Championship—because they wouldn’t let foreigners play. Wimbledon started in 1877 and the US Open started in 1881.

Though the Australian Open started in 1905, the International Lawn Tennis Federation did not designate it a major championship until 1924. So there exists a precedent for allowing new majors.

China has an estimated 30,000 tennis courts and 14 million players—up from 1 million in 1988. Supposedly the Chinese government is trying to increase that number by 15 percent, or about two million, per year. At its current rate it will catch up with the US in less than 10 years.

So what about The Peking Slam?

As a major super power just beginning to flex its tennis muscles, I’d imagine there has already been some discussion within the Chinese Tennis Association in this regard. China is a giant economic power and market; it would be ridiculous for the International Tennis Federation to ignore Grand Slam representation in Asia let alone China.

Or what about a Russian Grand Slam? “The Borsht Open”?

Russia has been making some pretty significant contributions to tennis of late. The number of top Russian women players has been considerable, with both Maria Sharapova and Dinara Safina reaching number one, but there is a whole slew of top players; Chakvetadze, Dementieva, Kuznetsova, Myskina, Petrova, Zvonareva, Kournikova. The Russian Federation has won the Fed Cup 4 times.

On the men’s side Russia has been equally productive with two former number one men's players: Marat Safin and Kafelnikov, and other top men players like Davydenko, Andreev, Kunitsyn, and Youzny. The Russian men won the Davis cup in 2002 and 2006.

South America is another hotbed of tennis talent with the likes of Nalbandian and Del Potro both being considered national hero’s. Or other South American stars like world number ones, Kuerton, and Rios, or Vilas, Sabatini, and Gold Medalist Massu’. Tennis is probably the third largest sport in South America, next to soccer and basketball.

So what about a South American Slam?  

Tradition and historical norms are all well and good but it’s seems foolish to think that we should not add a Major, possibly even two, when it could tie massive new markets to the ITF, and make no mistake the future of tennis is in these parts to the world.

One only has to look at past power houses like the United States and Australia who pumped out champions with assembly line consistency until the last 10 years, when these new areas started to develop tennis program. Now the Near and Far East and the Latin Countries are not only producing to level stars but major tennis events yearly.

But, can another Major fit into the current format, when players are already complaining about the heavy schedule? Maybe it’s time to look at a multi-tiered system where the top players are not required to play as many tournaments yet still able to earn enough points in the rankings.

It would certainly involve a major restructuring, yet is that a bad thing?

A number of top players have complained about the current season’s schedules, both men and women. To keep their rating’s they are forced to play at least 20 tournaments a year, often playing injured and below par. Adding a major may cut down on the number of times they play but the fans would get to seem them playing in another major which would more than make up for it.

The Majors are the focal points for fans and even the people that are only mildly interested will watch the majors. For a member of any country to win their home or even continental Slam is more than winning a sporting event, it becomes a patriotic event, and nothing ties a populace to a sport like national pride. In tennis that is the Slam. When Gustavo Kuerton won the French all of South America celebrated, not just Brazil.

No tournament creates the interest, both of the players and fans, as the Grand Slams, and it is foolish to ignore huge regions of the world that are in fact the future of tennis growth and popularity.