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Once Upon A Time — An Open Era History Of Rare Major Champions

Matt Zemek

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Robert Deutsch - USA TODAY Sports

The Big 3. Chris, Martina and Steffi. Serena. Venus and Justine. Borg, Connors, McEnroe. Lendl. Laver. Newcombe. They all won at least seven majors. Not everyone is able to win that many prestigious championships. If some are winning most of the biggest trophies, others will have to settle for much smaller collections. It is a first-world problem, but it nevertheless a limitation inherent to sports of all kinds.

Plenty of legitimately great tennis players won only one major title. Some players won one major but didn’t buttress that championship with a fuller career of top-tier quality. How — and when, and where — did these players emerge in the Open Era, which marks its golden anniversary in 2018?

Let’s offer a breakdown on both the women’s and men’s sides, from a few different perspectives. This isn’t meant to be a complete and exhaustive treatment of the subject, but one collection of angles which might make you go, “Hmmmmmm…”

Let’s go by decade, bundling the beginning of the Open Era in 1968 and 1969 with the 1970s.

From 1968-1979, women’s tennis produced six one-time major champions. Three came at the Australian Open, three at Roland Garros.

In that same time period, men’s tennis produced six one-time major champions. Three came at the Australian Open, two at Roland Garros, one at the U.S. Open. The U.S. Open champion in this group was 1975 winner Manuel Orantes, who won the tournament during its brief three-year run on green clay from 1975-1977.

From 1980-1989, women’s tennis produced no one-time major champions. Men’s tennis produced four one-time champions. One came in Australia, two at Roland Garros, one at Wimbledon.

From 1990-1999, women’s tennis produced four one-time major champions. One came at Roland Garros, two at Wimbledon, one at the U.S. Open.

In the same period, men’s tennis produced six one-time major champions. One came at the Australian Open, three at Roland Garros, two at Wimbledon.

From 2000-2009, women’s tennis produced two one-time major champions, both at Roland Garros.

In that same period, men’s tennis produced seven one-time major champions. One came at the Australian Open, three at Roland Garros, one at Wimbledon, and two at the U.S. Open. Of those seven one-time champions, six came before 2004 Wimbledon, when Roger Federer’s prime period truly took off at the majors.

From 2010-2018 — with one year left this decade — “one-time major champions” will refer to two separate groups: players who have retired and players who are still active.

In this decade, women’s tennis has produced nine one-time major champions. Three have retired: Francesca Schiavone, Marion Bartoli, and Flavia Pennetta. Six have not: Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Ostapenko, Simona Halep, Samantha Stosur, Sloane Stephens, and Naomi Osaka. Of those six, Stosur is almost certain to retire without a second major title. The other five should get multiple good opportunities to pursue more trophies.

Of the nine one-time women’s major champions this decade, one came in Australia (active), three in Paris (one retired, two active), one at Wimbledon (retired), and four in New York (one retired, three active). Three of the past four U.S. Open champions — Pennetta, Stephens and Osaka — own one major.

If confined to retired players, the one-time women’s major champions this decade came in these numbers: one at Roland Garros (Schiavone), one at Wimbledon (Bartoli), and one at the U.S. Open (Pennetta).

From 2010-2018, men’s tennis has produced Marin Cilic as a one-time major champion, at the 2014 U.S. Open. Cilic, an active player, is the only one-time major champion to emerge in men’s tennis this decade.

These various decade-specific breakdowns lead to these totals among the four major tournaments in the Open Era:

Over the past 50 years of Open Era competition, women’s tennis has produced a total of 15 retired one-time major champions (21 such champions if active players are included). The 15 retired champions are divided thusly: three in Australia, seven in France, three at SW19, two in New York. Among the 21 players including six active one-time champions: four in Australia, nine in France, three at SW19, five in New York.

Over the same 50 years of Open Era play, men’s tennis has produced a total of 22 retired one-time major champions (24 such champions if active players are included). The 22 retired champions are divided thusly: six in Australia, 10 in France, four at SW19, and two in New York. Among the 24 players including two active one-time champions: six in Australia, 10 in France, four at SW19, four in New York.

The overall totals from both women’s and men’s tennis in 50 years of Open Era competition at the majors:

10 one-time champions at the Australian Open, 19 at Roland Garros, 7 at Wimbledon, 9 at the U.S. Open, 45 total.

1968-1979: 12 one-time champions

1980-1989: 4

1990-1999: 10

2000-2009: 8 retired, 1 active, 9 total

2010-2018: 3 retired, 7 active, 10 total

50-year totals: 37 retired, 8 active, 45 total

Other noteworthy details:

— The last major tournament to crown one-time champions on both the women’s and men’s sides was 2004 Roland Garros: Anastasia Myskina and Gaston Gaudio.

— The last WTA season with two or more one-time major champions: 1978, Chris O’Neil (Australian Open) and Virginia Ruzici (Roland Garros). There was only one other such WTA season in the Open Era: 1977, Kerry Reid (Australian Open — January of 1977) and Mima Jausovec (Roland Garros).

— The last ATP season with two or more one-time major champions: 2003, Juan Carlos Ferrero (Roland Garros) and Andy Roddick (U.S. Open). As with the WTA, the ATP also had consecutive years with two one-time major champions. One year before 2003, the 2002 season produced Thomas Johansson (Australian Open) and Albert Costa (Roland Garros).

— The most active period which produced one-time (retired, not active) major champions at a single major tournament was 1976-1980 at the Australian Open. That five-year period created three one-time women’s major champions and four one-time men’s major champions, seven total.

— The 1976-1978 Roland Garros tournaments and the 2002-2004 French Open tournaments both produced three straight one-time major champions for one tour and four champions overall. The 1976-1978 French Opens produced three straight one-time women’s major champions. The 2002-2004 French Opens produced three straight one-time men’s major champions.

— The overall period of time which produced the most one-time major champions was 1975-1980. In these six seasons, 12 of the 37 retired one-time major champions of the Open Era were crowned, six women and six men.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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