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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