The 4 Grand Slam events are unquestionably the 4 most important tournaments on the tennis calendar. That’s why they are called the majors. Winning a Grand Slam is considered the pinnacle of the sport, and legacies of players are measured in a large part, by their performance at the majors.
But are some majors more difficult to win than others? Is there a particular Slam that is the toughest to win (or conversely, the easiest)? Recently, I’ve come across some posts and/or comments on various internet forums debating this point. And as is quite common with internet forum debates, things tended to become rather heated and chaotic.
Of course, a highly prevalent opinion was that no Slam is more/less difficult to win than any other Slam – each Grand Slam presents its own unique set of challenges, and it completely depends on an individual player’s profile which Slam suits him the most. However, there were those of the opinion that some majors are more difficult to win than others. The French Open and Wimbledon seemed to be the most common picks as the toughest Grand Slam to win, and understandably so. Wimbledon is generally considered by most players as the most prestigious event in tennis, and players tend to target it even more than the other majors. Meanwhile, the USTA has always maintained that the US Open is “the toughest test in tennis”.
Well, I decided to compile some statistics and compare the various Slams. I did it basically as an interesting exercise, and I don’t intend to draw any major conclusions from these. However, you’re free to draw any conclusions (or not) as you please.
So let’s see what the numbers have to say about all this – are all Slams indeed equally difficult to win? Are some Slams more elusive than others? Let’s find out:
Note : All statistics are taken from the beginning of the Open Era
1) Number of Different Winners at each Grand Slam
Australian Open – 26
French Open – 27
Wimbledon – 21
US Open – 27
So, Wimbledon clearly has the fewest unique champions, while the other 3 majors seem to be pretty much equal in this regard.
2) Number of titles won by players who have not won any of the other 3 majors
Australian Open – 8
French Open – 15
Wimbledon – 4
US Open – 6
Andy Roddick once said in an interview, “Wimbledon has had the best champions. You look at the list of champions, there’s not an outlier. There’s not someone you (see and) go, ‘That guy won Wimbledon?’ It’s the strongest roll call of any tennis tournament.”
The numbers do seem to back him up here. Only 4 times has Wimbledon been won by someone who has not managed to win at least 1 of the other 3 majors. Statistically, Wimbledon has undoubtedly been the most elusive of the Grand Slams to win.
The French Open, on the other hand, has been won by players who haven’t won any of the other majors a whopping 15 times. The Australian Open has had 8 such instances, while the US Open has had 6.
3) Most titles won by a single player
Australian Open – 6
French Open – 9
Wimbledon – 7
US Open – 5
Perhaps not much should be read into these stats. Rafael Nadal’s 9 French Open titles is really unprecedented, and well ahead of second placed Bjorn Borg, who has 6. Roger Federer has reached 10 finals at Wimbledon, which is the most by any player at any Slam. The US Open might be sporting the most frugal figure here, but there’s a 3-way tie there between Federer, Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras, all with 5 titles.
All the numbers so far point to the French Open being the relatively easier Slam to win. It seems really up for grabs by Grand Slam standards, doesn’t it? Well, try telling that to Pete Sampras. In fact, 3 of the top 10 Greatest Men’s Singles Tennis Players In The Open Era have only the French Open missing from their Grand Slam trophy collection.
So, now let’s take a different kind of metric. So far we’d been comparing Slams by statistics of champions. Maybe we should also compare them by those who have failed to become champions.
4) Number of non-champions who have won all the other 3 majors
Australian Open – 0
French Open – 6
Wimbledon – 4
US Open – 0
This throws up a very interesting result. In the Open Era, 10 players are short of the Career Grand Slam by just 1 major. For 6 of them, the elusive title is the French, and for the remaining 4, it’s Wimbledon. No player in the Open Era has fallen short of the Career Grand Slam by just the Australian Open or US Open.
As I said, I don’t intend to draw any major conclusions here, and I won’t. I’m not going to declare any winner or loser. However, compiling these stats has definitely been a very interesting exercise, and some of the numbers are undoubtedly quite intriguing. One thing that I do take from here is that the different surfaces do clearly provide a range of different and unique challenges for the players, and that’s one of the things that makes tennis such a rich and unique sport.