The challenging French Open-Wimbledon double – can Rafa do it again?
In the open era of tennis, since 1969, only four champions have achieved arguably what is the most difficult task in tennis, winning both the French Open and the Wimbledon Championships in the same year.
Two of the four all time greats are Rod Laver (1969) and Bjorn Borg (1979,1980 and 1981). Thereafter in the next 35 years it has been done three times more by two Champions. They are Rafa Nadal (2008 and 2010) and Roger Federer (2009).
Earlier, in the non-open era, the feat was a bit more common. The champions who achieved it are Jean Borotra (1924), Rene Lacoste (1925), Jack Crawford (1933), Fred Perry (1935), Don Budge (1938), Budge Patty (1950), Tony Trabert (1955), Lew Hoad (1956), Rod Lever (1962, 1968).
It is interesting to note that French Open is the only tournament to be always played on clay. Earlier all the other three Grand Slams were also played on grass for a very long period. The Australian Open was played on grass till 1988 and then switched to hard courts.
The US Open too was played on grass till 1975 when for a brief period of three years it was played on clay and from 1978 it is played on hard courts. As an aside, a trivia mentioned here is that Jimmy Connors is the only player to win the US Open on all three surfaces.
The point being sought to be made here is that earlier the gladiators of the tennis world needed to practise for just two types of surfaces, namely clay and grass.
Hence after hard courts came into contention, from 1988 at the Australian Open and from 1978 at the US Open, players who aspired to be all court champions had to train for all three surfaces and each of the three had different challenges.
For instance, clay courts are the slowest among the three, with higher bounce and the speed and skid of the ball is reduced, thereby lowering the effectiveness of say someone like Pete Sampras.
On the other hand the grass courts are quicker, with variable bounce, the surface is more slippery and the ball moves faster with a lower bounce. Hence a serve and volley player can play better on a grass court as he can finish off the point at the net.
On the other hand, a serve and volley player is likely to be passed more easily at the net on a clay court as the receiver has that slight more time to choose which side of the court to pass him.
Hard courts are termed “democratic courts” as they are in between.
Currently the grass court season is just one month and while Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam on grass there are only a few other tournaments played on this surface.
Further, the gap between French Open and Wimbledon is small as well, giving the players little time to recover from one type of court and play in the other.
Consequently, all this makes the French Open-Wimbledon double one of the toughest feats in tennis. No wonder, after Borg achieved it thrice, this feat has been achieved only three more times, all three times by supermen. Rafa Nadal has done it twice and Roger Federer has done it once.
Interestingly, the 2 times Nadal did it, in 2008 and 2010, he had won the French Open without losing a set. This year he has once again won French Open without losing a set. Can he win Wimbledon as well? It is going to be very very tough but if anyone can do it, he can.
We will know soon.