GRAND SLAM: THE CORRECT TERMINOLOGY

Sculpture on a terrace of the Metropolitan Opera House

Sculpture on a terrace of the Metropolitan Opera House

Call me Bud C.  That’s Bud the Curmudgeon.

You can also call me grouchy, grumpy and cantankerous, too. That’s OK because it’s the way I feel when running up against the confusing, careless corruption of tennis language.

What I have in mind is the game’s most precious and rarest accomplishment:  the Grand Slam.  It’s the quintessential quadrilateral, a gem so luminous and virtually out of reach that it has been achieved merely six times since the origin 71 years ago.  But it hurts, and I shed curmudgeonly tears at the way the Slam is treated by most print and TV journalists, as well as numerous players and officials who ought to know better.

All right, I promise not to cry on your time, but let’s go back to the beginning when the non-existant Grand Slam was first mentioned – but didn’t happen.  That was 1933, and a popular Australian with a flat-topped racket, hair parted down the middle – Jack Crawford – had the world in his right hand.  He’d won the Aussie and French titles plus Wimbledon.  Nobody before had ever done that in one year.  Gentleman Jack, as he was known, arrived in New York seeking the U.S. crown at Forest Hills, and – what?

From the typewriter of John Kieran, a columnist for the New York Times, came this thought on the “what”:  If Crawford wins he’ll have something like a grand slam in bridge, taking all the tricks.

However, a weary Crawford lost the final to Englishman Fred Perry in five sets, and the thought was shelved for five years.  Though Crawford never had any such intention or desire when he launched an unprecedented campaign, a redheaded Californian, Don Budge, did.  Don dreamed of it, planned it and set out in 1938 to subdue what was known as the Big Four, the only nations at that time to have won the Davis Cup, now considered the four majors.

His greatness showing up everyone, Budge was the first American to win the Australian and French, at age 23 retained his Wimbledon and U.S. championships. Whereupon – eureka! – New York times sportswriter Allison Danzig dusted off the Grand Slam emblem.  It nicely-fitted Hall of Famer Budge, he of the monster backhand.  He dined out on it, alone, for 15 years.

"Triumph of Music" by Marc Chagall at the Metropolitan Opera House

“Triumph of Music” by Marc Chagall at the Metropolitan Opera House

Until another Californian, tenacious, nearly-invincible baseline banger Maureen (Little Mo) Connolly joined the select club in 1953.  Twenty-nine years after Crawford, an ascendant Aussie, Rodney (Rocket) Laver, did make it, 1962.

But that wasn’t enough for the left-handed virtuoso.  The major championships route traveled by Budge, Connolly and Laver had been restricted to amateurs.  Rodney the Rocket, turning pro after his 1962 splurge, lusted to clear a table containing absolutely everybody, pros and amateurs.  It wasn’t possible until 1969.  He was 31, yet surged to his second Grand Slam.  Shall we raise a glass to him and this 40th anniversary?

Connolly and Budge are no longer with us, so the Grand Slam is a sort of ménage a trois for Laver, whose sneakersteps were followed by countrywoman Margaret Smith Court in 1970 and the German Mrs Andre Agassi (aka Steffi Graf) in 1988.

That’s all.  Five Hall of Famers and six Slams.  Nobody has ventured close since Steffi.  They are testimony that it is possible. A high-wire act across the globe and the year – but possible, something we yearn to see again.

Nevertheless, I  wince whenever I read or hear of such greats as Pete Sampras and Roger Federer credited with Grand Slams, 14 for Pete, and 13 for Roger as the 2009 season began.  They have none, even though their totals of majors are astounding, and Roger stands alone as a man who has tripled three times, capturing the Australian, Wimbledon and U.S. in 2004, 06-07.  He may yet become a Grand Slammer.  He or Rafa Nadal.  I hope so. But a case of Nadalitis has cramped Federer in 2006-07-08 at the French.

Metropolitan Opera House in New York

Metropolitan Opera House in New York

Sister Serena tripled in 2002 (French, Wimbledon, U.S.), and had nine majors at the close of 2008.  But no Grand Slam.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line each of the four majors began labeling itself a Grand Slam.  How silly is that?  If you won all of them within a calendar year, thus four so-called Grand Slams, what would you have?  A Quadrulopolis?   A Slammapalooza?

Confusing? Sure is.   But that’s tennis too often.

Moreover, this thoughtless rash of alleged Slams – here a Slam, there a Slam — detracts from the Herculean feats of the genuine Grand Slammers: Budge, Connolly, Laver Court, Graf.  Is that any way to treat the sport’s immortals?

But, you say, where is the rule?  Is a bona fide Grand Slam regulation – all four majors bagged inside a calendar year – chiseled in a stone tablet on Mount Olympus?

Sorry, no.  But don’t you think it ought to be so that I can cease being a curmudgeon?

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