Tennis Grand Slam Records That Will Never Be Broken
With all of the deserving discussions about Novak Djokovic’s place among the greatest players of all time, the Serbian superstar still has mountains to climb and oceans to cross.
He is dominating the men’s game, but it could take a few more years if he is to carve out a unique, unbreakable record or two with major championships.
Historically, capturing major titles was essentially the mark that casual sports fans could measure the greats. Masters 1000 (under various names through the decades) tournaments were nice, but they were not tabulated and analyzed the way they are now for a player’s resume. Superstars would be remembered if they dominated with long-term majors records.
The following is a compilation of unbreakable major-title records that matter. We’re not going to look at quarterfinal or semifinal streaks, but at the biggest final streaks and championships that have largely defined the players who are included. We’re not going to count games, sets or other trivial scoring streaks. We will examine records that required several years of great dominance.
For example, we are not going to include Rod Laver’s 1969 Grand Slam year. Eventually, and maybe in 2016 from Djokovic, another great player will match this achievement—and be acclaimed greater respect by doing it on three different surfaces against a deeper field of modern athletes.
Djokovic is not likely to approach any of the records that follow, but with continued dominance, he might carve out something special that nobody else can touch, most likely including several more Australian Open titles.
5. Pete Sampras' 7 Wimbledon Titles in 8 Years
Pete Sampras was arguably the greatest tennis player on a grass surface. He certainly was the most dominant player at Wimbledon from 1993-2000, winning seven championships in eight years. It's unfathomable to imagine that another player will achieve this feat.
Bjorn Borg won five consecutive Wimbledon titles from 1976-80. Roger Federer matched this streak from 2003-07, and had he won his epic 2008 Wimbledon loss to Rafael Nadal, Federer was in line to win seven straight titles by the time he finished off Andy Roddick in 2009. (Federer added his seventh Wimbledon title in 2012, but Sampras’ seven titles in eight years is more impressive.)
Pistol Pete crushed the field at a time when serve-and-volley tennis was being replaced by bigger servers on the faster, more skidding grass surface of the time. His only blemish was one quarterfinal loss against eventual-champion Richard Krajicek in 1996, a straight-sets defeat over delays and two days.
Sampras explained his missed opportunity in the New York Times: “I missed a backhand, I guess by an inch or so; I felt it was good but the lady called it wide, and that was my one opportunity to even things up.”
Usually, Sampras dominated, but he also had the uncanny ability to win the pressure points when a match can turn quickly at Wimbledon. Sampras and Federer aside, it will be many years or decades, if ever, before someone else challenges this mark at Wimbledon.
For comparison, Novak Djokovic (2011-13, 15) would need to win the next three Australian Open titles to match this accomplishment in Melbourne.
4. Ivan Lend's 8 Consecutive Years in the U.S. Open Final
The U.S. Open might be the toughest major venue to dominate. It’s relatively fast, hard-court surface allows for all varieties of styles and competitors. Unlike the French Open or Wimbledon, which are more specialized, the U.S. Open consistently features the deepest fields of competitors who can play spoiler on any given match.
So it’s unlikely we will see someone better Ivan Lendl’s streak of eight consecutive years (1982-89) in the U.S. Open final. Lendl “only” won those titles in 1985-87, and anyone would rather have Sampras’ seven titles as noted in the previous slide, but it might be harder for anyone in the future to get to the U.S. Open final eight or nine straight times.
For comparison, Roger Federer made it to six straight U.S. Open finals from 2004-09, but he ran into an opportunistic and rising Novak Djokovic in the 2010 semifinals. Nobody really gets a reset of this kind of streak, because dominance over nearly a decade is a one-time shot.
Eight straight finals appearances at any major venue has not happened, not even Rafael Nadal’s dominance at the French Open. So it’s particularly impressive that Lendl accomplished this at the U.S. Open, where superstars are often more fatigued by the time the hot New York crowds and raucous fans join in to test their nerves.
Djokovic, for all of his greatness, will not match Lendl's feat at Melbourne or New York, where his uninterrupted current streak is one final appearance. Even at Paris and London, he has only been playing for the championship the last two and three years, respectively.
3. Rafael Nadal's 9 French Open Titles in 10 Years
It’s possible that a future clay-court king will win 10 straight French Open titles, but we will have to settle for Rafael Nadal’s nine Musketeers Cups in 10 years (2005-14). Really, this shouldn’t be possible at a gruelling major venue where a champion must have fresh legs, mad defense and an unwavering killer instinct.
Nadal started his streak just as he was turning 19 years old. In today’s ATP, teenagers and players in their early 20s are virtually non-factors for major championships. Maybe players will continue to expand their greatness into their 30s, but aging and fatigue make it more specifically difficult for one person to dominate Roland Garros.
We might not see any player win nine titles in 10 years at any other major venue, let alone Roland Garros. Additionally, being a clay-court specialist might become rarer as superstars like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have won or mounted serious challenges with their all-courts skills.
If Djokovic were to match this at Melbourne, he will need to win the next five Australian Open trophies. If that were to happen, he would have 10 titles here after we throw in his 2008 breakthrough championship. There’s a chance, but it’s very unlikely.
Another French Open record like Nadal’s? Forget about it. And if Robin Soderling had not hit through Nadal at the 2009 French Open, a decade of unblemished dominance could have been the most unbreakable record by far.
2. Bjorn Borg's Combination of 6 French Open and 5 Wimbledon Titles
The king of European majors is Bjorn Borg, who scored 11 titles between London and Paris by the time he was 25 years old. It’s extremely unlikely someone else will come along and win six French Open and five Wimbledon titles. (Rafael Nadal’s 11 European titles are more imbalanced with nine French Open championships and two at Wimbledon.)
Borg, renowned first as a clay-court king, worked hard to be a serviceable player at the net and hit baseline passing shots on grass. He made a monopoly of the Channel Slam—winning the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year—accomplishing this three straight years (1978-80). Since, Nadal (2008, 10) and Roger Federer (2009) have joined the club, albeit with smaller shares.
Could Djokovic rack up a French Open title or two? If he couples this with more triumphs at Wimbledon, he can possibly cross the halfway mark to Borg’s accomplishment, but his time to chase the legendary Swede’s Channel dominance has never really been an option.
Stay tuned as Djokovic gets linked with Borg more frequently in 2016. He is ready to tie Borg’s career total with one more major win, and it’s possible that a French Open title could either tie or go past the great Swede.
Do you think Borg wishes he would have racked up another half dozen majors by playing Australia and extending his career? Federer might still be chasing him.
1. Roger Federer Competing in 18 of 19 Major Finals from 2005-10
Surprise. No, Roger Federer’s 17 career major titles does not make this list. There’s an outside chance that either Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic could catch him, and some other future dominator will have an entire career to chase after 17. It won’t be easy, but it’s plausible.
Federer has other major records that would be harder to break. For instance, he won five straight Wimbledon titles in 2003-07 that overlapped five straight U.S. Open titles from 2004-08.
However you look at it—four straight years sweeping both titles (2004-07) or 10 majors in 12 years at two venues—it’s a nearly unmatchable feat. We still chose Borg’s 11 Channel majors because of the greater contrast in surfaces and an extra title.
But the most unbreakable record of all is Federer getting to 18 major finals in 19 chances. That’s right, from Wimbledon 2005 through Australia 2010, the Swiss Maestro failed to reach a major final in only the 2008 Australian Open. It’s even more astonishing when we sometimes think of 2008 as an “off year,” and we are not even looking at a three-major year like 2004.
For comparison, Djokovic has made it to a major final in six of his last seven majors. He would need three consecutive years of major finals to match Federer’s string.
There’s a reason Federer has been mentioned on every slide. No matter what Nadal, Djokovic or any superstar accomplishes, Federer is the standard with his fingerprints over the most variety of records. He will be the subject of all comparisons for decades to come.