Is the French Open the toughest grand slam to win? Many people associate long rallies with tough, as they're physically gruelling and require greater endurance. Why is this the benchmark though? Don't get us wrong, we're not saying a professional triathlete could pick up a tennis racquet, simply have a couple of coaching sessions and be ready to beat Djokovic and Nadal on clay. The question however is, why is it most seem inclined to placing such importance on how much a tennis match takes out of you for a barometer of what levels difficulty?
The results suggest that top ten players are vulnerable to losing in the first week of Wimbledon and the US Open (Rounds 1-3), much more so than they are at the other two major tournaments earlier in the year at the same stage. We've discovered this is because the surfaces at these two slams are faster. Wimbledon is played on relatively low skidding grass and the US Open on low bouncing/zipping hard court. This makes the world of difference for lower ranked players trying to upset the very best at the top of the game. If an attacking middle-ranked unseeded player has come into the tournament in a really good hitting rhythm and is striking the ball close to flawlessly, they're going to be dangerous and have a shot at blowing the top player off the court. The top guy is going need to be near the top of his level to contain the barrage and they tend not to be early into the tournament.
In 2012 Lucas Rosol was one of the dozens in the last decade who has been able to bring this sort of full throttle, one/two ball bash tennis to the table. Rosol rocked the tennis world by beating down legend Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon and knocking him out in the second round phase. He didn't just beat him down, he completely took him to pieces and Nadal had no solution. Many have managed this feat with other top players and we will name them later. Rosol is just another one of them who came out banging down aces/unreturnables, cleaning lines with his forehand and virtually bulldozing his way past a legend of the sport. Was it any surprise though? He was the underdog and had nothing to lose, was inspired by playing against a big name on the big stage and used the crowd to feed off energy. He could swing through his strokes freely.
Would this ever happen on a slower court? When we consider it would require a player to hit three to four of these big shots per rally, which you can just not do with regularity throughout the duration of a best of five set tennis match? No player will sustain this brand of playing against the best in the world on a slow surface, unless they are something special. There is no direct avenue for them to take and so they must go full-on, toe-to-toe with the opponent, more often, in order to beat them. To win players need to be able to control their aggressiveness and construct a winning formula for winning each point against the guy at the other side of the net. There isn't any hiding behind instincts, as you have much more time to think on a clay court. The ability to break serve much easier also makes matches difficult to close out if you haven't the necessary experience in winning matches at grand slam. So a lot then comes down to who plays the big points well and keeps their cool in the big moments and the top players have been there and bought the t-shirt, so will always have that edge. They've been there before and the anxiety levels will generally, be lower. The top ten player has the edge here, the man with the greater experience.
So out the four slams the top 10 are most vulnerable to being knocked out in the first week of Wimbledon and the US Open. Early into a big tournament and still having not settled fully into their best grooves, top players can just get ambushed out of no where by one-ball bash tennis. Let's look at how many seeds fell in Monte Carlo. Which one of those seeds did not live up to their seeding? We are not saying the top guys basically have byes into the second week of the French Open, but it is much more of an easier ride and therefore the tournament cannot regarded as the hardest slam to win.
Lets just look at the sort of shocking upsets we've witnessed take place over the years at both SW19 and Flushing Meadows.
- Wimbledon 2014 Round 4 - Nick Kyrgios defeats Rafael Nadal 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-3
- Wimbledon 2014 Round 1 - Andrey Kuznetzov defeats David Ferrer 6-7 (5), 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2
- Wimbledon 2013 Round 1 - Steve Darcis defeats Rafael Nadal 7-6, 7-6, 6-4
- Wimbledon 2013 Round 2 - Sergiy Stakhovsky defeats Roger Federer 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6
- Wimbledon 2012 Round 2 - Lukas Rosol defeats Rafael Nadal 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4
- US Open 2011 Round 2 - Martin Klizan defeats Jo Wilfred Tsonga 6-4 1-6 6-1 6-3
- US Open 2009 Round 3 - John Isner defeats Andy Roddick 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5)
- Wimbleodn 2003 Round 1 - Ivo Karlovic defeats Lleyton Hewitt (Also world number 1 at the time) 1-6 7-6(5) 6-3 6-4
We could go on, but these are just some of the major stunning upsets we have had at both Wimbledon and the US Open.