Winning three slams in one year used to be something out of the ordinary.
After all, only six men have done it in the Open Era, namely Rod Laver winning all four in 1969, Jimmy Connors in 1974, Mats Wilander in 1988, Roger Federer in 2004, 2006 and 2007, Rafael Nadal in 2010 and Novak Djokovic in 2011.
What is noteworthy in this list is the absence of names like Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Winning three slams in one year proved too big a challenge for these all time greats, giving evidence to just how hard it is.
What is perhaps even more noteworthy is that winning three slams in a single calendar year has become the new norm.
While women's tennis had four different slam winners in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2011, men's tennis haven't had four different slam winners in a year since 2003.
In fact, men's tennis have seen one player win three slams for five! of the last eight years.
When we remind ourselves that that feat only happened three times in the period from 1969 to 2004, we can see how rare and odd it is to see the kind of single player dominance we have been witnessing on the slam level season after season for the better part of the last eight years.
In fact, the period preceding the Federer dominance from 2004-2007 was the exact opposite as four different players dividing the slams between them was the norm then. To be exact, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 all saw four different men raise tennis' most coveted trophies.
What does that tell us about the respective periods in men's tennis? I don't know, but I am sure other writers could make the case for this and that period being a weak era by virtue of these numbers. That is not my aim here.
I am more interested in to what extent these statistics tell us anything about how 2012 will play out.
The answer? Probably not a whole lot though I do think they point to four different slam winners being more unlikely than another dominant year by Djokovic or his heir to the throne.
Personally, I've heard guesses ranging from 2012 being the first time in ten years, where we see four different slam winners to 2012 being the year of Djokovic' golden calendar slam.
What the statistics show us is that winning three slams a year is not as much of a rarity these days as we tend to think of it. Rather, one can argue, winning three slams has become sort of the hallmark of excellence.
By this logic, winning two slams in a season constitutes a very good season nowadays, but it takes three (or an additional Olympic Gold or WTF trophy) to make it truly great in our minds.
At a time where many regard the top of men's tennis as good or better than it has ever been, this is a very tall order.
So, what can we expect from 2012?
Does 2011 for Djokovic represent the start of a Federer-like dominance? Djokovic dominance? Or is it rather more like a 2010 for Nadal followed by a less trophy-rich season?
Will the new norm of three slams a year winners continue and if so, will it be Djokovic, Nadal, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro or another player who will carry that tradition?
Or could we have the first season since 2003 with four different slam winners with the players above plus Roger Federer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych as the combatants for the titles?
I personally believe Djokovic will rack up at least two slams next year as well—he's simply been that much better than the rest this year and I believe his game is built on solid fundamentals that are there to stay.
Then again, I kind of expected that Rafa would end up with more than one slam for 2011 as well, so I'm open to and keen to hear other predictions. Also, what if say Andy Murray can suddenly get past his mental hurdle and win one, who's to say he cannot go on a run of his own?
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