Even if Serena Williams does not win the US Open later this summer, she will still have pulled off an incredibly rare feat in calendar year 2015.
It’s well-known that Serena holds all four Grand Slam titles dating from the 2014 US Open through the 2015 Wimbledon Championships. This is of course her second such “Serena Slam,” the first having been accomplished across the 2002-2003 seasons.
However, let’s stop for a moment and look only at Serena’s titles in 2015 for a moment.
In professional tennis, it’s actually extremely rare for a player to win three different majors on three different surfaces in the same calendar year.
And Serena has now done it twice in her career.
Many people refer to the “Open Era” as a critical division between the previous and current eras in the sport’s history. This distinction was made at the start of the French Open in 1968, when professionals were allowed to compete with amateurs in Grand Slams.
However, there is another important distinction that must be made in tennis history. Before 1978, there were only two surfaces in Slam tennis – grass and clay.
It wasn’t until 1978 that the US Open moved to hard court. Consequently, there were two surfaces utilized in the Open Era from 1968-1977, and three surfaces from 1978 to present.
Looking at the history of tennis, it becomes self-evident why this distinction is so important.
Of the six calendar Grand Slams that have occurred in tennis history, five of those were completed on only two surfaces. Steffi Graf alone won the calendar Grand Slam (1988) during the “Three Surface” era.
Previous winners of the calendar Grand Slam:
Don Budge (1934)
Maureen Connolly Brinker (1953)
Rod Laver (1962, 1969)
Margaret Court (1970)
Steffi Graf (1988)
Serena Williams (2015)?
It’s arguable that Graf is the sole calendar winner in this era because the degree of difficulty involved in winning four Grand Slams increased exponentially with the introduction of the third surface.
That assertion is underscored by the fact that even winning three Slams on three different surfaces in the same calendar year has been extremely rare in this era.
Before Serena won the Australian Open (hard), the French Open (clay), and Wimbledon (grass) in succession to start the 2015 season, there were only six other instances in which the “Surface Slam” was accomplished.
The following four players have achieved the Surface Slam in their career (winning 3 majors on 3 different surfaces in the same calendar year):
Martina Navratilova (1984)
Steffi Graf (1993, 1995, 1996)
Serena Williams (2002, 2015)
Rafael Nadal (2010)
If you doubt the rarity and importance of the Surface Slam, consider this.
From the start of Grand Slam tennis through today there have been six instances of the calendar Grand Slam achieved by five players. Since 1978, there have been only seven instances of the Surface Slam by four players, with Serena’s being the most recent.
If you need further convincing, deliberate on the fact that there has been only one male player in the entire history of the sport to win three Slams on three different surfaces in the same calendar year (Rafael Nadal – 2010).
The smart money will certainly be backing Serena Williams to complete just the 7th calendar Grand Slam in tennis history at the 2015 US Open. However, even if by some shocking circumstance she does fall short, don’t forget that Serena has already notched some historic achievements in 2015.
In addition to holding all four major titles at once, she will have completed just the 7th Surface Slam in the modern era.
These are legendary achievements in their own right.