Any professional tennis player will tell you that the hardest thing to do is win a grand slam tournament. Every player brings their best game as these tournaments bring the most rankings points and prize pools of the year. The greatest players of all time are usually determined by their performances in these grand slams, too.
Now imagine how hard it is to win all four in the same year. There’s no margin for error, and that’s why only a handful of people have accomplished this feat as a singles player. Here are the five to do just that on the men’s and women’s side of professional tennis.
The first person to ever win a professional calendar grand slam was the only one to do so in the singles circuit for a very long time. Don Budge accomplished the feat in 1938, and his four grand slam wins were part of eight consecutive grand slam titles.
Budge won the Australian Open to start the year by defeating John Bromwich in three sets. He then defeated Roderich Menzel at the French Open and Bunny Austin at Wimbledon. Budge faced his fourth different finals opponent in a row at the US Open when he defeated Gene Malko. Malko didn’t make it easy for Budge, though, as he needed four sets to win and become the first calendar grand slam champion.
It took 15 years after Budge became the first man to accomplish the calendar grand slam for the first woman to do so, with Maureen Connolly winning the big four in 1953. Like Budge, her total grand slam victory streak reached six, including the calendar slam.
Unlike Budge, however, Connolly didn’t have to beat four different players in finals matches, she only had to defeat two. The first was Julia Sampson, whom Connolly defeated in two sets at the Australia Open. The other three finals all featured Connolly defeating Doris Hart, and she did so in two sets each time. After Connolly, it would be a long time before another woman accomplished the calendar slam.
Only one person on the list has accomplished the calendar slam twice as a singles competitor, and that person is the legendary Rod Laver. Laver won 200 career titles as a professional and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1981. With 11 total grand slam championships, he was able to get his first calendar grand slam in 1962.
The second came seven years later in 1969. Along the way, Laver had some familiar opponents. The first calendar slam featured three victories over Roy Emerson and one over Martin Mulligan at Wimbledon. The second career slam, though, had Laver defeating a different opponent in each of the grand slam finals, which was capped off with a US Open victory over Tony Roche.
Heading into the 1970s, Margaret Court had already accomplished the calendar grand slam twice, but she did it in mixed doubles competition. Court had teamed up with Ken Fletcher for her first and then three different partners (including Fletcher) for her second. In 1970, though, Court did it all on her own.
Court easily won the Australian Open in January 1970 by defeating Kerry Melville in two sets, then went on to defeat Helga Niessen at the French Open and the legendary Billie Jean King at Wimbledon in one of the greatest matches in women’s tennis, 14-12 and 11-9. Court finished the calendar slam with another tough test, defeating Rosie Casals in three sets at the US Open.
Despite the dominance of some of the eventual all-time greats in both men’s and women’s tennis, Steffi Graf is the only person to win a calendar grand slam since 1970, doing so in 1988. To put in perspective how hard it is to achieve the calendar slam, Graf won 22 grand slam titles but only did it all in a single year once.
Graf opened the 1988 grand slam calendar by defeating Chris Evert at the Australian Open, then defeated Natasha Zvereva at the French Open and Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon. With millions of people watching to see if Graf would make history at the US Open, she did just that by topping Gabriela Sabatini in three sets.