By winning the French Open, Maria Sharapova added the Roland Garros title to her Wimbledon, Australian and US crowns, thus completing the Career Grand Slam, and in doing so becoming a member of one of the most exclusive clubs in women’s sport.
In the open era, only Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Serena Williams and now Maria Sharapova have won all four major Championships.
The first six are widely regarded as the best female players of all time, corroborated by the recent Tennis Channel’s Greatest Players of All Time list, which placed them one through six on the women’s side.
But does Maria Sharapova belong among such esteemed company, or perhaps has her recent triumph cheapened the accolade by exposing the relative ease by which it can now be done.
The career slam used to be one of sports Holy Grails. In the first thirty years of the Open Era, only one man (Rod Laver) and five women had achieved the career Grand Slam.
Since then, Andre Agassi, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova have been added to the list (and if it wasn’t for an untimely rain delay in Paris, perhaps Novak Djokovic, too).
Granted, these are great players who deserve their accolades, but what does this say about all the greats who failed to win on all four?
Pete Sampras, Monica Seles, Bjorn Borg, Evonne Goolagong, Jimmy Connors, Justine Henin, Ivan Lendl, Venus Williams, John McEnroe, Martina Hingis, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Novak Djokovic have all won more majors than Sharapova without completing that elusive career Grand Slam.
Yet, these players are unquestionably legends of the game, one would imagine ahead of Sharapova.
So how did she manage it?
Winning at all four majors used to show an ability to adapt one’s game to the vastly different playing surfaces, each of which required totally different skills.
When Borg won back-to-back French Open and Wimbledon titles, he did so playing from the baseline at Roland Garros, then serve and volleying at SW19 just two weeks later.
Now, you can win on all surfaces almost an identical style of play from week to week. When Rafael Nadal won Wimbledon. He did so by Grinding from the Baseline.
This has a great deal to do with pressure from the sporting media who felt that Wimbledon was becoming boring. A claim no true tennis fan would ever attest to. Perhaps the rallies were short, there were bad bounces and big powerful serves ruled the day, but this was just for a short brief moment in the tennis season. Unfortunately, to the casual fan, Wimbledon made up such a massive portion of the tennis calendar, that it’s beautiful idiosyncratic and unique characteristics which made grass so tough to play were problematic and thus were almost entirely eliminated in the early 2000′s.
In fact, we can be even more precise than that.
When Goran Ivanisevic made his incredible run in 2001, beating fellow serve and volleyer Pat Rafter in the final, he became the last true net rusher to lift the Wimbledon cup. The following year saw a baseline battle between Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian, and although Federer has one of the best net games of all time, the vast majority of his time at Wimbledon has been spent behind the baseline.
Interestingly, the slowing down of SW19 came at the exact same time as 7-time Wimbledon Champion Pete Sampras’ retirement from the game.
So now that a baseliner can grind his way to all four majors, does the career slam mean as much as it once did?
No, perhaps not.
However, there’s no question that Maria Sharapova is a great player, and her achievement in winning all four majors should not be downplayed. She has won four majors, and that is no joke.
Does the fact that each slam was won at a different tournament make the achievement any greater?
Maybe, but only a little.