A Short History of Hard Court Grand Slam Play
by Dan Martin | August 28th, 2010, 10:05 am
  • 22 Comments

Hard court tennis is relatively new to Grand Slam play. Fittingly, the brash Jimmy Connors took the inaugural hard court slam by winning the 1978 U.S. Open. John McEnroe won the next 3 U.S. Open titles, Connors then won the title again in 1982 and 1983 with McEnroe maintaining U.S. hegemony in NY through 1984. Ivan Lendl who had been runner-up in 82, 83 and 84 took the title from 1985-1987. In the first ten years of hard court Grand Slam play only three men took home the winner’s trophy.

In 1988, the Australian Open began the year on a slower paced hard court and Mats Wilander became the fourth man to win a hard court Grand Slam event. With Wilander winning in New York in 1988 and Lendl winning in Melbourne to start 1989, only 4 men had won the 13 Grand Slam events held on hard courts. Boris Becker became the fifth man to capture a hard court slam at the 1989 U.S. Open. Due to Lendl winning Down Under to start 1990, Pete Sampras became only the sixth man to win a hard court slam at the 1990 U.S. Open. It may just be me, but for Sampras to be only the sixth man to win a slam on hard courts despite 15 grand slam events having been contested on hard courts prior to the 1990 U.S. Open seems odd. Even more astounding to me is Patrick Rafter becoming only the tenth man to win a Grand Slam on a hard court when he won the 1997 U.S. Open title. By that time 30 slams had been contested on hard courts. All of the champions during the first 20 hard court U.S. Opens and first 10 hard court Australian Opens finished their careers with multiple slams. More impressive still is the fact that each of these men won at least 2 hard court Grand Slam events as well.

The dam preventing lesser players from winning on hard courts broke a bit in 1998 as Petr Korda followed up his 1997 U.S. Open upset victory over Pete Sampras with an Australian Open title. Still, few single slam winners emerged on hard courts between 1998 and 2010. Thomas Johansson’s victory in 2002 stands out as the most surprising hard court Grand Slam result. Andy Roddick, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro join Korda and Johansson as the only single slam winners to take home a hard court title. Given that Roddick, Djokovic and del Potro are still highly capable active players this list may shrink.

When comparing lists to single slam winners on clay and grass, it is clear that even though hard courts produce twice as many champions these days they seem to produce fewer head scratching one slam wonders. Consider the sheer number of single slam winners produced on clay and grass since 1978: Yannick Noah, Pat Cash, Michael Chang, Andres Gomez, Michael Stich, Thomas Muster, Richard Krajicek, Carlos Moya, Goran Ivanisevic, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Gaston Gaudio have all either claimed the French Open or Wimbledon as their sole Grand Slam title. Brian Teacher’s 1980 singles title on the grass Down Under does not compare well to even Thomas Johansson’s surprising title run in 2002. In short a surface that is touted as being more egalitarian seems to offer fewer chances to the Cinderella Men on tour. This bodes well for the 2010 U.S. Open champion’s place in history.

Here is a chronological list of the men who have claimed hard court slams. It is quite a whose who list of the Open Era. (Total Hard Court Slam Titles in Parenthesis)

1. Jimmy Connors (3)
2. John McEnore (4)
3. Ivan Lendl (5)
4. Mats Wilander (2)
5. Boris Becker (3)
6. Pete Sampras (7)
7. Stefan Edberg (2)
8. Jim Courier (2)
9. Andre Agassi (6)
10. Patrick Rafter (2)
11. Petr Korda (1)
12. Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1)
13. Marat Safin (2)
14. Lleyton Hewitt (1)
15. Thomas Johansson (1)
16. Andy Roddick (1)
17. Roger Federer (9)
18. Novak Djokovic (1)
19. Rafael Nadal (1)
20. Juan Martin del Potro (1)

Tomorrow, I will take a look at what is on the line in New York this year.


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22 Comments for A Short History of Hard Court Grand Slam Play

Skeezerweezer Says:

I am happy they went to the Hard court in 78. Should have been sooner. The US has way more HC than in other surface, and is what most of the public parks in the US have.

It alos imo has the best fairest bounce…


fedeRER Says:

this, for me proves that federer is at least the best hard courter of all time.


madmax Says:

Interesting hard court slam information Dan!

(Dan, I think it should be Who’s who?) – not being pedantic by the way – just a famous book here over in UK,’Who’s Who?) a bit like debrett’s.

With all these fantastic players, and seeing Fed with ’9′ next to his name, it makes you realise just how incredible that stat is!

Look forward to your next on New York, Dan.


jane Says:

Wow Dan, what a historically informative article!! I had no idea this was the case:”even though hard courts produce twice as many champions these days they seem to produce fewer head scratching one slam wonders.”

Thanks for providing the research and lists! Hopefully a few of those on that list with (1)’s behind their names with up their number to (2) or (3)! : )


whanem Says:

Your list may be a “who’s who”, where “who’s” is the contraction of “who is”. “Whose” means something else again.

Third paragraph:
…”Petr Korda followed up his 1997 U.S. Open upset victory over Pete Sampras with an Australian Open title.” Presumably you meant to write “Petr Korda followed up Rafter’s….upset victory”. Pretty confusing as is.


Nolo Says:

what is clear is that hard courts produce many more injuries than grass or clay courts, especially ankle injuries


funches Says:

Korda did beat Sampras at the 1997 U.S. Open. In his next match, he retired with a cold against Bjorkman.

That’s right, a cold.


David Says:

As far as I know, every single men’s U.S. Open champion on hard courts has been No. 1 in the world at some time in his career, with the exception of Del Potro, who obviously has many years to do so. Roddick and Delpo are the only USO hard-court winners to have only 1 Slam and that could still change.

So that’s more evidence of just how difficult it is to win the U.S. Open. There are no fluke winners.


Dan Martin Says:

The grammatical error is all mine. I will try to avoid such mistakes in the future. As for Korda, he gained momentum in 1997 when he beat Pete in 5 sets at the US Open. He did not win the title, but the momentum carried over to early portion of the 1998 season.

David, I had not thought of the #1 ranking correlation with US Open champions, but it is a great stat!


Dan Martin Says:

correlating? I am having issues


grendel Says:

Thomas Johansson’s “surprising title run” in 2002 was perhaps not so surprising when you bear in mind who he was playing in the final – a Marat Safin who had spent the previous night partying. Safin all over to get the dates mixed up, don’t you think? I mean, one generally celebrates after,not before,one’s triumph. Marat clearly spotted this error when he came to play Hewitt in the AO final, and showed that good things come to those who learn from their mistakes.

jane – you provided us with a good “cat story”, so here’s a “dog story” just for you. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1306402/Warring-neighbours-driven-barking-mad-curious-recording-dog-night-time.html)


Dan Martin Says:

Federer lost to Haas in 5 sets at the 2002 AO and Safin beat Haas in 5 sets in the semis. Federer might have gotten his first slam had he gotten past Haas.


jane Says:

grendel, sounds intense, what with the “neighbour from hell” comments and the playing of recorded barks in the wee hours! You have to wonder if it’s the dog behind this or some other kind of tension.


jane Says:

b.t.w. grendel, was it you who was talking about the lack of teens at the top in tennis, via Fed? Anyhow, have just read a VERY interesting article about (speaking of “short histories”) the now truncated careers of pro-tennis-players, i.e., how the window of opportunity for them is smaller, beginning later and ending sooner. Here’s a link; it really is worth a read, I think:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/30/sports/tennis/30iht-TEEN.html


Dan Martin Says:

Greatest hard court player is a tricky topic. I think Connors’ best days on hard courts may have been before 1978! Johnny Mac and Ivan Lendl certainly would have higher totals if the Aussie Open had been held on hard courts and promoted as well as it is today. They both had their best days on hard courts prior to 1988. Federer being a European means he has fewer titles in places such as San Jose, Indianapolis (defunct) and DC as Agassi or Sampras had. Still, Roger has 5 US, 4 Aussies, 4 titles at Cincy, 3 at Indiana Wells, 2 at Miami and 2 at Canada. Pretty good results for a kid raised on clay. Connors, Mac, and Lendl would all be top 5ish hard court players, but it is hard to compare them to guys who had careers that focused primarily on times after January 1988. Fed, Sampras, and Agassi are the top 3 hard court players of the 2 hard court slam era. Sampras reached 8 USO finals and is the youngest and oldest USO champion of the past 30+ years. Federer is 9-2 in hard court slam finals. Agassi seems to be behind these two, but he did win Cincy in 2004 and reach the Canadian and US Open finals in 2005 when he was pretty old.


Dan Martin Says:

Indian Wells^ – sorry typos and grammatical errors are killing me


Ben Pronin Says:

Korda tested positive for some PED and was suspended not too long after his AO triumph.

This makes Nadal quite an anomaly. A lot of the all time greats dominated, at one point or another, on hard courts. Federer, Sampras, Agassi, for example, strived to win on clay long after they won everything else. Nadal is striving to win on hard after he’s dominated the other two surfaces. It’s strange, to say the least.


grendel Says:

jane, just seen your link – thanks. Quite sobering.


Mark Anderson Says:

The U.S. Open or Australian should start to rotate to clay every other year, or the very least grass. Grand Slams shouldn’t always be two hardcourt and one clay, and one grass.
Hardcourts were a bow to American players. There are no dominant American players now. The Spanish and French dominate. Clay should come back.


Skeezerweezer Says:

That is a frigging hilarious post


margot Says:

jane: just read your link, v. interesting and bears out what I was thinking. I commented on age of last 16 at USOpen. Also average age of top 20 must be about 26.
Just shows how talented, Andy, Djko and Delboy are, ;)
Mark Anderson: hmm, and what about American dollars?


jane Says:

Hi margot, Yeah, interesting article about age /career lengths. I checked Andy M’s site (as well as the news) yesterday, but nothing about his search for a coach. More important, anyhow, is that he bounces back at the end of the year. I have faith that he will. : )

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