What is the Open Era in tennis? Know all about the notable Open Era Grand Slam winners

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal have won over 20 Majors in the Open Era.
Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal have won over 20 Majors in the Open Era.

The Open Era is an oft-heard term in tennis, but what exactly does it mean? The era commenced in 1968, with records held by players in this period being held in higher significance in tennis history.

To further understand the Open Era, one needs to delve a bit into the history of the sport. For almost a century after the first Grand Slam was played in 1877 (Wimbledon), only amateur players were allowed to play.

An amateur player was one who took no prize money for participating and only received travel expenses. These players were generally affiliated with various tennis federations and were barred from playing in tournaments where prize money was awarded.

That meant tennis was not a lucrative 'career' option back then, and players craved financial security. With the advent of tournaments organized by rich private parties that offered prize money, many a talented amateur became 'professional.'

Over time, that became a concern for the Grand Slams, as they did not always have the best players competing, which depleted the quality of the competition. Moreover, there were also rumours of amateurs receiving 'under the table' prize money at Grand Slams.

That smacked of double standards, as these players weren't necessarily the best of their era, while their 'professional' counterparts, who were invariably better than amateurs, were barred from playing the Majors.

The Grand Slams, especially Wimbledon, feared irrelevance as a growing number of talented youngsters turned professional. At a landmark meeting in Bournemouth in March 1968, the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) - tennis' then governing body - opened its doors to professionals, ensuring that Grand Slams would always have the best players competing.

That marked the dawn of a new era in the sport, with the first Open Era tournament held appropriately in Bournemouth that year. Roland Garros in 1968 became the first Grand Slam tournament in the Open Era.

Who are the notable Grand Slam winners in the Open Era?

Serena Williams is the most successful Major winner in the last 50 years.
Serena Williams is the most successful Major winner in the last 50 years.

Over the years, the Open Era of Grand Slam tennis has seen many fine players win multiple titles. A handful of players like Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall have won Majors in both the Amateur and Open Era.

Serena Williams has won a record 23 titles, with her latest title coming at the 2017 Australian Open. The soon-to-be-retiring legend could make a fairy-tale triumph at the US Open and walk off into the sunset.

Behind Williams, the duo of Rafael Nadal and Steffi Graf have won 22 Majors. While Graf has been retired for more than two decades, the 36-year-old Nadal won the Australian Open and Roland Garros this year to move to within one title of Williams' record.

Another legend of the sport - Novak Djokovic - comes in next with 21 titles. The Serb broke a tie with Roger Federer by winning his seventh Wimbledon title last month.

Among the aforementioned players, Graf has won an unprecedented quadruple career Grand Slam - winning every Major at least four times. She's also the last player to win the elusive calendar year Grand Slam (1988), a feat also achieved by Rod Laver. Meanwhile, Williams has won triple career Grand Slams; Nadal and Djokovic have won each Major twice, while Federer has done so once.

However, Federer is one of only four players in the Open Era to win their first four Grand Slam finals. In fact, the 42-year-old won his first seven finals - a record by a country mile.

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Edited by Anirudh
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