It is so easy to talk about the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double—that elusive cross-Channel double slam achievement, all the more remarkable for being both held within a month. The greatest players have won it, indeed only the very greatest—Laver, Borg, Nadal, Federer.
There is a comparable achievement, however, in the trans-Atlantic slam, the Wimbledon-US Open double, with two grand slam victories at London and New York within the space of two months. Perhaps there has always existed a disconnect between the two—that European/American, Old World/New World thing. It is no less mighty a feat, nonetheless.
Like the said French-Wimbledon double, only the very best, too, have won it—the fact that a few more have done so does not by any means diminish the difficulty of it. Only seven in the Open Era can be said to have won the Atlantic slam, that latter, swifter half of the true holy grail of the Calendar Grand Slam.
There is added interest, of course, because Novak Djokovic stands in 2011 to add his name to this illustrious company, as he stands on the brink—maybe his best chance ever—of claiming his first US Open title.
Naturally we begin with the player who defined greatness, right at the head of this Open Era—the destined Aussie Rod Laver.
In 1969, Wimbledon was almost indistinguishable from US Open, with both tournaments played on grass, and the tennis calendar ran slightly differently. He had already won the Australian and French, and while nobody at the time was quite as concerned about the historic implications, he managed nonetheless to win Wimbledon, defeating John Newcombe, and then Tony Roche a while later for the US Open. It was a remarkable year for Australian tennis.
It was the end to the Open Era’s first, and only so far, Calendar Grand Slam, whose significance grows stronger as the years pass by.
"Jimbo," as he came to be known, was the Open Era’s first real potential GOAT after the age of Laver. In 1974, he accomplished something akin to the Calendar Grand Slam; alas, he didn't play at the French that year, but won, apart, the Wimbledon-US Open double. It was a bad stretch for the veteran Ken Rosewall, who has fairly pummelled in both finals.
A lefty like his predecessor, Laver Connors boasted too a feisty temperament, that never for all his 20-plus years on tour deserted him. His fiery never-say-die belligerence saw him a contender for majors into the 1980s and he repeated, remarkably, his feat of 1974 eight years later in 1982. Dethroning the defending Wimbledon champion John McEnroe in a five-set final, he went on to win the US Open, defeating the youngster Ivan Lendl.
Connors is probably less well known for winning the Wimbledon-US Open double twice (but who is), but it surely ranks alongside the other records accrued over a career spanning nearly three decades.
If there were anyone who made this latter half of the season almost an exclusive winning zone in the early 1980s, however, it must surely have been John McEnroe. For many years dominant at Wimbledon, and at the US Open, it is little surprising he should have won the double, twice.
Indeed, one wonders if he could have done so more often. He certainly did so in 1981 and 1984—two seasons that epitomized dominance—defeating Borg in both finals in the former, and in the latter crushed Connors for Wimbledon, and then Lendl at the US Open.
Yet another lefty, McEnroe could have won the trans-Atlantic slam in 1980 too, when he defeated Borg in New York, but had lost a heartbreaker in London. In 1982 he lost a close final to Connors at Wimbledon, before being downed by Lendl in the semis at the US Open.
Alas, one can’t have it all, but twice is more than enough for most.
Most associate the booming Boris Becker with Wimbledon, where his serve wreaked most havoc in the second half of the 1980s. Indeed, he was a three-time champion, while only a one-time winner at the US Open. In his 1989 campaign, however, the stars aligned, as the heavens converged to grant Becker twin victories across the Atlantic.
Twenty years had passed since Laver’s sole Open Era Wimbledon-US Open double, and this time the honours went to the new German tennis king. Victory over his rival Stefan Edberg in a dominant straight-sets win earned him his much beloved Wimbledon. A few weeks later, he reached his career-first final at the US Open, and there defeated Ivan Lendl in four sets, a man who had already at that stage (in his eighth straight final at New York) made his mark at the tournament.
It was a dream few weeks for Becker, who reached, by the trans-Atlantic slam, the acme of his career.
If there were anyone for whom the Wimbledon-US Open double came, at first, almost to being a formality, it would have been Pete Sampras. For over 10 years he bestrode the courts of the All-England Club and Flushing Meadows like a giant, winning his first title at the latter in 1990, and his last in 2002.
1993 and 1995, however, were his marquee seasons, as he wrapped up wins at both, in the same year. In the first he defeated fellow countryman Jim Courier for the title at Wimbledon, before downing Cedric Pioline in straights at the US Open. He would go on to win a third-straight slam at the Australian in 1994.
1995 was a much tougher affair, but more the illustrious for it. He had to defeat three-time champion Boris Becker for Wimbledon, and career-rival Andre Agassi for the US Open crown.
A 14-time grand slam champion overall, his Wimbledon-US Open doubles may come down as mere footnotes in the larger story of so expansive a career. But they earn him a place, nonetheless, in this select seven.
Several of the men in this list so far have won the trans-Atlantic double twice, but none, before the time of Roger Federer, had ever defended the achievement, or so much as won it four times overall. Indeed, Federer defended his Wimbledon-US Open crowns thrice, and won them four times in a row.
It is truly astounding. His first had come in 2004 when he downed Andy Roddick for victory at Wimbledon, which was followed up by a mellowing of Hewitt at New York. In 2005, he defeated Roddick again at London, only to sing the swan song of Agassi’s storied career in a four-set victory in America.
In 2006, he beat his rival Rafael Nadal for Wimbledon, before defeating his long-time challenger Roddick, yet again, at the US Open, while the year after he faced and dismissed Nadal, again, at Wimbledon, before taking down emerging force Novak Djokovic for his fourth-straight US Open victory.
Few have told it quite like Federer, and this one will remain for years to come.
2010 was Rafael Nadal’s year of making. 2008 had been his breakthrough year, but 2010 sealed it for him, and for all. Winning three-straight grand slams, for the first time in his career and for the only time so far, involved a victory at the US Open.
It had begun well, with a hard fought victory at the French, before he had to battle his way even more to clinch Wimbledon in a straight-sets humbling of Tomas Berdych. At the US Open, some subtle changes to his grip enhanced his serve, and brought him to a career-first final. There, he faced Novak Djokovic, whom he promptly dismissed in four sets.
Lying flat on the ground, with tears in his eyes, who could deny the magnitude of the Spaniard’s achievement ? He had won the career grand slam at age 24; with it, his first trans-Atlantic slam.
This year, we are on the threshold of another initiation. Might this elusive company of seven be made eight? We have a new Wimbledon champion, Novak Djokovic, who has turned to gold all things at his touch in 2011.
With but a single loss (to Federer at Paris), Novak Djokovic stands to extend his dominance this year by winning the US Open. He owns a 5-0 record against Nadal in 2011, who has become something of a plaything for the Serb, while his own proficiency on the American hard courts is without doubt.
Moreover, he is a two-time finalist, and two-time semifinalist. Who isn’t to say he doesn’t have the experience to make that extra step in 2011 ? Yet again, we stand on the brink of history.