On a warm, windy day 55 Septembers ago, Jack Crawford took the court against Fred Perry in the finals of the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills. Before the match New York Times columnist John Kieran wrote. "If Crawford wins, that would be something like scoring a grand slam on the courts, doubled and vulnerable." Earlier in the year Crawford had won Wimbledon and the championships of Australia and France and thus stood on the verge of winning the titles of the only four nations—the U.S., Britain, Australia and France—ever to have won the Davis Cup.
Crawford had hardly set out to win the four tournaments. That would have been madness. Few players bothered to ply the oceans often enough in a single year to compete in all four championships. Even now, more than half a century later, with airplanes and agents whisking players everywhere about the globe, only four men and seven women have won all four major championships in their careers, let alone in a single calendar year.
However, in '33, Crawford led Perry two sets to one and stood but a set from winning the Grand Slam, even if he didn't know that was what he was trying to do. A reclusive sort from the Australian inland town of Albury, New South Wales, Crawford was an asthmatic who frequently took brandy mixed with sugar to help his breathing during matches. On this muggy afternoon in New York, Crawford downed two or three doses of the stuff. That is one story. Another is that Vinnie Richards, an old friend and top American player, slipped a "nerve tonic"—straight Kentucky bourbon—into Crawford's ice tea to help reduce his tension. Whatever, brandy or bourbon, tipsy or tired, Crawford fell to pieces, losing the last two sets 6-0, 6-1, and Kieran's passing reference to a Grand Slam of tennis seemed to float away, forgotten.
As Kieran suggested, the term Grand Slam is taken from bridge, and it refers to the winning of all 13 tricks by one set of partners. The term moved into baseball to mean a home run with men on all the bases, and then golfer Bobby Jones appropriated it in 1930, when he won the open and amateur championships of both the U.S. and Britain. Jones's feat was very much in Don Budge's mind in 1937, when he decided to remain an amateur for another year to help the U.S. retain the Davis Cup.
To keep up his interest until August, when the Davis Cup Challenge Round would be played in Philadelphia, Budge decided to go after the four major titles. He told no one about this scheme save his doubles partner. Gene Mako. As it turned out, Mako was the last man to stand between Budge and the Slam, but beyond that, the fabled hurricane of '38 postponed their Forest Hills final for a week. At last, on Sept. 24, Budge whipped Mako in four sets, and in the fourth paragraph of his story for The New York Times, Allison Danzig wrote that Budge's achievement was "a grand slam that invites comparison with...Bobby Jones in golf." This time the term stuck.
While winning golf's modern professional Slam—the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA—is beyond all tolerable limits of likelihood, someone has attained tennis's Grand Slam on the average of every decade or so (and every five years, if you include doubles). Since Budge bequeathed tennis the Slam 50 years ago. Rod Laver has won it twice, in 1962 and '69, and Maureen Connolly and Margaret Court have each won it once, in 1953 and 1970, respectively. This year Steffi Graf has won three legs of the Slam and is an odds-on favorite to go grand two weeks hence at the U.S. Open.
Martina Navratilova won six on the trot, as the British say, as did Budge and Connolly. But Navratilova hasn't won four in the same calendar year. She won the last three majors of '83 and the first three of '84 before Helena Sukova upset her at the Australian Open. However, because Navratilova was the holder of all four titles at the same time—even though they had been won in two different years—some people, herself included, insist that Martina's achievement is no less a Grand Slam than Budge's, Connolly's, Laver's or Court's. These people are in the minority. A Grand Slam is a fine wine the vintner must make with all the same year's grapes.
Some other awfully good players have just missed as well, though Crawford remains the closest no-cigar. Lew Hoad won the first three majors in '56 and got to the finals of Forest Hills against his old roommate Ken Rosewall. Hoad won the first set, and then saw little Muscles chop him and lob him right out of posterity. Jimmy Connors ran rampant through tennis in '74, winning the Australian Open and then losing a total of eight games in the finals at Wimbledon and Forest Hills. But he was barred from the French Open in an internal tennis dispute because he had played team tennis for an outfit known as the Baltimore Banners. Tony Trabert's only defeat for months in '55 was at the Australian championship, right after he had led the U.S. to victory in the Davis Cup and before he went on to sweep the other three majors. The French was the only Grand Slam title that eluded Perry in '34 and Roy Emerson in '64. Both, however, won at Roland Garros on other occasions and thus join Laver and Budge as the only men to have won all four titles in their careers.
Among the ladies, Navratilova has twice won three legs of the Slam. In 1928 and '29, Helen Wills won all but the Australian, which she didn't bother to enter. Besides Connolly, Court and Navratilova, four other women have won all the majors during their careers. Three of them—Doris Hart, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert—are easy to guess. The fourth, Shirley Fry, won exactly four Grand Slam singles tournaments, from 1951 to '57.
Should Graf win at Flushing Meadow as neatly as she did in Australia, France and England—dropping only one set, to Navratilova in the Wimbledon finals—she would sweep the Slam with the same broom Budge used. In fact, when asked years ago to recount his Slam year. Budge prefaced the rather quotidian details by saying. "Well, really, not a whole lot happened that year."