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5 tennis records that are unlikely to ever be broken

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal
Arjun
ANALYST
Modified 12 Jul 2020
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They say that records are meant to be broken. And that is true for tennis as well.

Few would have thought that Roger Federer would one day surpass the record of most Grand Slam titles in men's tennis, which belonged to Pete Sampras. And when Roger Federer did indeed win his 15th Grand Slam title at 2009 Wimbledon, there weren't a lot of people who would have imagined Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic threatening to surpass that tally within a decade.

Margaret Court, meanwhile, holds the record of most Grand Slam singles titles in women's tennis, winning an unprecedented 24 such titles. Considering that the likes of Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf fell short of Court's record, most people would have thought that Federer's record would stand the test of time as well.

Yet here we are in 2020, watching Serena Williams attempt to chase down Court's record for most Grand Slam titles while Rafael Nadal (19) and Novak Djokovic (17) are closing in on Federer's record of 20.

Going back to the old adage that records are meant to be broken, it is only appropriate to add a 'conditions apply' clause at the end of the phrase. That's because some records are so colossal and rare that it is unimaginable to think these records ever being emulated, leave alone broken.

On that note, let us take a look at five such records in tennis history:

#1 Multiple Calendar-year Grand Slam

Rod Laver at Wimbledon in 1969.
Rod Laver at Wimbledon in 1969.

Winning all four Grand Slam titles during the course of a player's career, a term called the 'Career Grand Slam', is an impressive feat. The very fact that only five players have achieved the feat reflects its difficulty.

Going one step further is the 'Calendar Slam' - winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same calendar year. Only two men have ever achieved this astounding feat - Don Budge and Rod Laver.

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Don Budge was the first to win the Calendar Slam in the year 1938, when tennis was yet to open its doors to professionals. The great Rod Laver, after whom the eponymous Australian Open arena is named, also won the Calendar Slam - doing so in 1962 during the Amateur Era.

Seven years later, Laver made history by becoming the first player in the Open Era to win the Calendar Slam. In the process, the left-hander also became the first player to achieve the coveted feat twice.

After Laver turned professional in 1963, he was banned from participating in Grand Slam tournaments for five years. Many people, especially ones who were fortunate to have watched the great man play, believe that Laver's final Grand Slam tally would have easily surpassed 20 had he been allowed to participate in Majors during the years 1963 to 1967.

Here's a video of Rod Laver speaking on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his record breaking 1969 season:

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Four decades later, only Roger Federer (2006-07, 2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015) have managed to play all four Grand Slam finals in the same year.

In three of these four instances, Federer (2006-07) and Djokovic (2015) won the three other tournaments but were thwarted in the Roland Garros final. Federer in 2009 lost in the Australian and US Open finals while winning Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

On the ladies side, three players have managed to win the calendar year Grand Slam, with two of these instances happening in the Open Era. Maureen Connolly Brinker (1953) won the Calendar Slam in the amateur era while Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988) achieved the feat after tennis turned professional.

Serena Williams in 2015 came close to winning the Calendar Grand Slam. She won the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles before losing to the unfancied Italian Roberta Vinci in the US Open semifinal despite winning the opening set.

Considering the difficulty of this achievement, it is unlikely for any player to win a Calendar year Grand Slam even once, let alone doing it multiple times.

#2 Most titles at a single Grand Slam tournament

Rafael Nadal takes a bite of the 2019 Roland Garros trophy.
Rafael Nadal takes a bite of the 2019 Roland Garros trophy.
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95 matches played at Roland Garros, 93 matches and 12 titles won. No prizes for guessing the name of the person who holds this remarkable record.

Ever since his Roland Garros debut in 2005, Rafael Nadal has made winning a habit at the famed Court Philippe Chatrier. Such has been the Spaniard's appetite for glory on the Parisian dirt that only two men have managed to beat him at the tournament in 15 years.

Even more remarkable is the fact that Nadal holds a perfect 12-0 record in Roland Garros finals, with none of these title matches going the distance.

With his four-set win over Dominic Thiem in the 2019 Roland Garros final, Rafael Nadal broke Margaret Court's record of most titles at a Grand Slam tournament. Court won 11 titles at the Australian Open; however, eight of these titles came before tennis allowed professional players to compete.

Such has been Nadal's dominance at Roland Garros that he may add a few more titles at the claycourt Grand Slam tournament before hanging up his racquet.

Here's a montage of Rafael Nadal's exploits at Roland Garros:

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#3 Longest winning streak

Martina Navratilova
Martina Navratilova

Dominance in absolute terms is when a player embarks on an unbeaten streak, when winning almost seems routine. One player who perfectly epitomized that dominance was Martina Navratilova.

Martina Navratilova's record winning spree began on 20 February 1984 at the US Indoor Championships in New Jersey. Over the next 10 months, up to 7 December 1984, Navratilova won 74 consecutive matches in the best single-season exploits by any player in the history of the game.

During this period, she won 13 titles, which included three at Grand Slam tournaments - Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open. A runaway favorite for the Australian Open title, Navaratilova was denied a Calendar Grand Slam by unheralded Czech Helena Sukova in the semifinals.

Incidentally, Navratilova's only other defeat in 1984 came at the hands of another Czech - Hana Mandlikova.

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Steffi Graf came closest to eclipsing Navratilova's record during 1989-1990, when she notched up 66 consecutive wins. Navaratilova appears again in third place for the longest winning streak on all surfaces; she won 58 consecutive matches in 1986-87. The Czech left-hander also produced a streak of 54 consecutive wins in 1983-84.

On the men's side, Bjorn Borg's records of 49 and 48 consecutive wins respectively in 1978 and 1979-80 come in seventh and eighth for the longest all-surface winning streaks in the Open Era.

Needless to say, Navratilova's record is unlikely to be broken for a long time. Among active players, Novak Djokovic (43) in 2010-11 and Roger Federer (41) in 2006-07.

#4 Multiple boxed set

Margaret Court
Margaret Court

The 'Boxed Set' is the feat of winning all 12 titles - singles, doubles and mixed doubles - across all four Grand Slam tournaments. Not surprisingly, it is much rarer than a Career Grand Slam.

While no player has won all 12 titles in the same calendar year, three players - all female - have managed this incredible feat during their careers. Since the top male singles players generally don't play doubles and it is even rarer for them to feature in mixed doubles, no man has come close to winning the career Boxed Set.

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The first player to win the career Boxed Set was American Doris Hart. The story of Hart is one of dogged determination, grit and remarkable perseverance, one that has inspired generations of tennis players. She suffered from osteomyelitis, a condition that left her right leg permanently impaired since childhood.

Hart incredibly won all three titles at the 1951 Wimbledon Championships, all on the same day, which remains a first for any player.

Later, Margaret Court and Martina Navratilova also achieved the Boxed Set. But incredibly, Court has achieved the Boxed Set twice. In other words, she has won all three titles at all four Grand Slam tournaments on multiple occasions.

At 1969 Wimbledon, Court won her second ladies doubles title to complete one of the most incredible feats in tennis history - the multiple boxed set.

Among active players, Serena Williams has come close to achieving the boxed set. She lost in the mixed doubles finals at 1998 Roland Garros and the 1999 Australian Open, while having won all other Slams.

The boxed set record in tennis is so rare that very few players have come close to achieving it even once, let alone doing it on multiple occasions.

#5 The Calendar-year Golden Slam

Steffi Graf
Steffi Graf
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The legendary Steffi Graf holds a plethora of records in the game. One of the greatest players to ever take the court, the 22-time Grand Slam singles champion was ranked World No. 1 for a record 377 weeks - a number that still remains the gold standard to beat, more than two decades after her retirement.

Graf is one of four players to have won all four Grand Slam titles and the Olympic singles gold, a feat called the career Golden Slam. But what makes the German's achievement incredible is that she is the only player to win all five titles in the same year.

In 1988, the German became the eighth and most recent player in tennis history to win all four Grand Slam titles in the same season. In that year, she also won the gold medal at the Seoul Olympics to complete the rare feat of the 'Calendar-year Golden Slam'.

Graft beat Chris Evert in the Australian Open final, Natasha Zvereva in the Roland Garros title match and Martina Navratilova in the Wimbledon final. She then beat Gabriela Sabatini in the final of the US Open before beating the same opponent in the gold medal match at the Seoul Olympics.

More than three decades after her Calendar-year Golden Slam, no player has managed to win the Calendar Grand Slam, let alone the Calendar Golden Slam.

Here's a video of Steffi Graf modestly opining that her Calender-year Golden Slam record is one that may be emulated:

Published 10 Jul 2020, 22:45 IST
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