What is a Grand Slam in Tennis?

In today’s tennis calendar year, we can find many different tournaments. The most important ones, and the ones that draw more interest for the general public, are the so-called Grand Slam tournaments. There are only …

In today’s tennis calendar year, we can find many different tournaments. The most important ones, and the ones that draw more interest for the general public, are the so-called Grand Slam tournaments. There are only four Grand Slam tournaments: the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the US Open.

Winning a Grand Slam means winning all these four tournaments in a single calendar year. This is something that only a few selected players have achieved throughout the history of tennis. 

Only two players in men’s tennis have won the Grand Slam. The late American legend Don Budge, back in 1938 and the Aussie Rod Laver, who achieved it twice: in 1962 and 1969.

In women’s tennis, there are four different players that have achieved this milestone.

San Diego’s own Maureen Connolly in 1953; Margaret Court, achieving it in 1970 and the German Steffi Graf, with the added bonus of having won the gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games, being the only person in history to have won the so-called Golden Grand Slam: the 4 Grand Slams and the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year.

Overview of the four Grand Slam tournaments

Each Grand Slam tournament has its particularities and its own mystique that makes it unique and special.

Australian Open

The first Grand Slam tournament of the year is the Australian Open. It is held in Melbourne, Australia, during the second half of January, when it is summer in the southern hemisphere of the planet so the conditions can be very extreme.

Each Grand Slam tournament is an opportunity to win many ATP points, up to 2000 for the winner, and the prize money budget is huge as well. Players spend plenty of time preparing to be in excellent shape and achieve the best possible results.

To do so, most of the players participating at the Australia Open come to Australia before the second half of January to train and play in several lower-level ATP tournaments, such as:

ATP 250 Tournaments

  • Adelaide International in Australia
  • Great Ocean Road Open in Melbourne
  • Murray River Open in Melbourne
  • Singapore Tennis Open in Singapore

WTA 250 Tournaments

  • Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne
  • Gippsland Trophy in Melbourne
  • Grampians Trophy in Melbourne
  • Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne

Although the prize money is not as large as in the Australian Open, many players attend these events to practice and get used to the Australian conditions and climate. In addition, it is an excellent opportunity for the fans to see great players live without paying a lot for tickets.

History of Australian Open

Unlike today, this Grand Slam was played on clay until 1988, when it was finally switched to hard court. These had courts that used to be green, but back in 2008, they were changed to a new material called Plexicushion and a new blue color, which allows the ball to travel at a slower speed, absorbing less heat and causing less wear and tear on the players. There are 39 courts at Melbourne Park, 33 hard courts, and six clay courts.

The center court and the most important one of them all is the Rod Laver Arena, in honor of the Australian tennis player. It has capacity for more than 14,800 spectators, and this court hosts the most important matches of the tournament, including the men’s and women’s finals.

Roland Garros

At the end of May, the turn of the second Grand Slam of the year is Roland Garros, which usually takes place between the last week of May and the first two weeks of June. This tournament is played on clay in the capital of France, Paris.

Before this major tournament, a large number of preparatory tournaments are played on clay in order to, as in January for the Australian Open, get used to the surface and to the temperatures and arrive at Roland Garros as prepared as possible. Some of these tournaments include:

ATP Tournaments

  • ATP 1000 Monte Carlo (Monaco).
  • ATP 500 Barcelona Open (Spain).
  • ATP 1000 Mutua Madrid Open (Spain)
  • ATP 1000 Italian Open (Roma, Italy)
  • ATP 250 Estoril Open (Portugal)

WTA Tournaments

  • WTA 1000 Mutua Madrid Open (Spain)
  • WTA 1000 Italian Open (Italy)
  • WTA 500 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (Germany) 

Clay has the particularity of being complex, different, and very demanding physically, as the points that are disputed are usually longer, which makes it a beautiful surface for fans. However, this also means that if players are not in an optimal physical and mental state, this clay court season can be the toughest of the year.

Roland Garros has 20 clay courts, including three large capacity stadiums, and it also serves as the headquarters of the French Tennis Federation. The center court is named after the legendary local player Philippe Chatrier and the stands of this magnificent stadium can accommodate about 15,000 spectators.


The third Grand Slam of the year is held in July on grass, a surface radically opposed to clay: Wimbledon. For many, it is their favorite Grand Slam as it is different from the others in every possible way.

It is played in London, England and the maintenance of the courts requires extra special care and attention. Wimbledon’s center court can hold around 15,000 spectators. It recently added a retractable roof that allows matches to be played when it rains so that matches do not have to be delayed any longer than necessary.

In order not to wear out the courts more than necessary, only the seeded players can train on the courts that will be included in the tournament. On the other hand, the rest of the players can train on other courts, such as Aorangi Park or the Tennis Federation.

Another of the main characteristics of the Wimbledon event is that everyone must wear white, whether players, umpires, or fans, because white, together with strawberries and cream, is the most representative of this tournament.

In addition, getting tickets for this tournament is an arduous and complicated task, as there can be cases of having to wait years to get a ticket on the biggest courts.

The grass season ends with Wimbledon; however, it begins once Roland Garros is over, and there are several tournaments in between that serve to prepare for this part of the year. Examples of these tournaments are:

ATP Tournaments

  • ATP 500 Queen’s Club Championships in London, United Kingdom
  • ATP 500 Halle Open in Halle, Germany
  • ATP 250 Eastbourne International: played in Eastbourne, United Kingdom
  • ATP 250 Mallorca Championships in Mallorca, Spain

WTA Tournaments

  • Aegon Classic Birmingham, England
  • Bett1 Open Berlin, Germany
  • Mallorca Open, Spain

US Open

Photo by Dylan Freedom on Unsplash

The last Grand Slam of the year is played in New York City, United States, and starts at the end of August at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre. It is played, like the Australian Open, on hard court, and the fans who attend this event are considered the loudest and most passionate.

The center court of the US Open is the Arthur Ashe Stadium, in honor of the American tennis player who won 3 Grand Slam titles and reached number 2 in the world.

This stadium has a capacity of 23771 spectators, being the center court of a Grand Slam with the largest capacity. In addition, the matches are accompanied by a variety of entertainment features, such as visual light shows and musical performances in the purest American style.

The US Open concludes the North American hard court tour with other important events during August such as the following:

ATP Tournaments

  • ATP 1000 Canada Open (Montreal, Quebec & Ontario, Canada)
  • ATP 1000 Cincinnati Masters (Cincinnati, United States of America)
  • ATP 500 Washington Citi Open (Washington, USA)

WTA Tournaments

  • WTA 250 Washington Open (USA)
  • WTA 1000 Canada Open
  • WTA 1000 Cincinnati Masters

History of the Grand Slams

In terms of age, we can comment that the Wimbledon tournament is the oldest, having been held for the first time in 1877. In second place is the US Open (1881), then Roland Garros (1891), and, finally, the Australian Open, whose first edition took place in 1905.

In the first instance, these four tournaments were not connected in any way; they were simply played annually in their respective countries. However, in 1924, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) decided to change this matter and unite these four events and turn them into the, by then, new Grand Slam tournaments.

At the beginning, the prizes awarded to the winners of the tournaments were not monetary but somewhat intangible, such as fame or recognition.

The impact of the Grand Slams on the history and culture of tennis

In this sport, there is no peak event such as the World Cup. Instead, there are four annual events that are considered the maximum and primordial objective of the tennis players: The Grand Slam.

Winning one of these tournaments has been the desire of all tennis players since they were children and began to play. The prizes that come with them are the juiciest of all: to be in the history of the tournament and win economic remunerations close to two million euros if you manage to win the title.

During the Grand Slam weeks, the players are the absolute protagonists, and the whole world’s attention falls on the event and the matches in it. The media coverage is much wider every time one of these four events is played, and the interactions of any post on social networks related to that Grand Slam go up like crazy since everyone who considers himself a tennis fan is aware of these four tournaments.

And this attention does not go unnoticed by brands and sponsors, who mark these dates in red on their calendars because they know they can get a lot of profit if they play their cards right, both in visibility and product attention.

That is why, every year, the money raised by the organizers of the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and US Open through brands and sponsors who want to be associated with the event is increasing. This money can be reinvested in the event itself, trying to make it bigger and bigger, creating jobs before and during the weeks of the Grand Slams.

The most successful Grand Slam players

Regarding men’s tennis, and without forgetting legends such as Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi, when we talk about the most successful tennis players in terms of Grand Slam titles, we have to talk about the so-called ‘Big 3’:

  • Roger Federer, with 20 Grand Slams
  • Novak Djokovic, 22 Grand Slams
  • Rafael Nadal, 22 Grand Slams (as of February 2023).

The latter two, moreover, are still active and have the opportunity to increase their record. Since 2003, these three players have won nearly 80% of all the Grand Slams, an impressive figure that speaks of the magnitude of these three players, who are already considered the three best players in the history of men’s tennis.

In the girls, there are more names

Margaret Court: The Australian tennis player won the Grand Slam in 1970.

Steffi Graf: The German tennis player won the “Golden Slam” in 1988, winning four Grand Slam tournaments and the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Seoul.

Serena Williams: The American tennis player won the “Serena Slam” in 2002-2003 and the “Serena Slam” in 2014-2015, where she won four consecutive Grand Slam titles, although not in the same calendar year.

All-time leaders in Grand Slam victories

As of today, those with the most wins in Grand Slam Tournaments in the men’s singles category are:

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have 22 titles, and Roger Federer with 20.

And in women’s singles: Margaret Court with 24 Grand Slams, Serena Williams with 23, and Steffi Graf with 22 titles.

Importance of Grand Slams in tennis

Grand Slam tournaments are the most important tournaments in the world. They can be considered unofficial World Championships.

Every professional player dreams of winning some tournament, or why not all four in the same year? Such a feat is regarded as the ultimate result in tennis. And if we add to that the Gold Medal in the Olympic Games, it would be almost impossible. Since only one person in all history has achieved it, Steffi Graf, in 1988, was able to do it. 

The four tournaments are deeply rooted in the culture and history of tennis and represent the essence of tennis. Fans, tennis lovers, and professionals look forward to the event enthusiastically.

They bring prestige to the winners and spectacle and joy to the spectators. Along with the Olympic Games, they are the most prestigious tournaments of today.

Grand Slam FAQ

What is the longest tennis match played in a Grand Slam?

Older players recall that Grand Slam matches used to be played to the best of five sets, with no Tia Break. The final, fifth set was played to the conclusion, with the winner needing to win six games. In the event of a draw, they had to play to a two-game differential. Matches might last a long time. This alternative was difficult for many people in the age of television when broadcast timing was critical.

Tia Break was debuted in tennis at the end of 1978.
In the event of a tie after six games, they begin to play contact playing each point to reach seven, but if both reach seven, they must get the difference of two points.

The longest match in tennis history was played in the first round of Wimbledon. John Isner won with a score of 6:4 3:6 6:7 6:7 (7-9) 6:7 (7-3) 70:68 over Nicolas Mahut. The contest was 11 hours and 5 minutes long. The contest began on June 22 and concluded on June 24.

What is the longest tennis rally in a Grand Slam?

Vicki Nelson and Jean Hepner played the longest recorded rally in a professional tennis match in 1984 in the Virginia Slims tournament in Richmond, Virginia. During their dramatic hour and 47-minute tie break, these courageous women hit an astonishing 643 shots in 29 minutes.

Sampras and Agassi are the men’s perpetual rivals. In the 1999 US Open, a point of 51 strokes was made. Andre Agassi won the match as well as the Championship.

Who was the youngest tennis player to win a Grand Slam?

Michael Chang was the youngest guy ever to win a Grand Slam. He was 17 years and 110 days old at the time. He accomplished it by defeating Stefan Edberg in the 1989 French Open.

Martina Hingis was the youngest woman to win a Grand Slam singles championship. The Swiss athlete defeated Mary Pierce in the 1997 Australian Open final at the age of 16 years and 117 days. She became the first Swiss male or female player to win a major and hold the world’s No. 1 position.

Has a qualifier ever won a tennis Grand Slam?

Emma Raducanu, a British player, became the first qualifier to win a grand slam singles championship on the ATP or WTA Tours when she defeated Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 at the 2021 US Open.

She is the only player in the world who has achieved this accomplishment. Nobody has ever done it in the men’s division.

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