When Rafael Nadal won the 2017 French Open, without dropping a set throughout the tournament against Stan Wawrinka, a collective thought that went about was that the previous two times Nadal had won Roland Garros in such a fashion, namely in 2008 and 2010, he had gone on to sweep Wimbledon as well.
Winning the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back in the same year is known as the Channel Slam – referring to the English Channel that divides France and the United Kingdom. Needless to say, winning the Channel Slam is extremely difficult.
The sole reason being that the difference in the playing conditions – from the slow and uneven bounce on clay to the relatively faster and low bounciness of grass – makes it difficult for the players to adjust across the four weeks from one Major to the other.
It’s not, therefore, surprising to see that there have been only 10 players who have managed to win a Channel Slam in the Open era. Only four of those have been men.
Rod Laver completed the career Grand Slam – winning all four Majors – for the first time in 1962. Unique as it was, he wasn’t content with winning it just once. Seven years later in 1969, a year after the introduction of the Open Era, the (then) 31-year-old Laver went about completing the career Grand Slam for the second time. And while doing so, he wrapped up victories at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in style, beating two compatriots in each final.
Defeating Ken Rosewall in the French Open final that year was Laver’s way of avenging his loss to his compatriot in the preceding year’s final at the event. His win against John Newcombe in the final at the Championships saw him play a four-setter, but despite taking a set off him there wasn’t much that Newcombe could do against the Rocket on the day.
Long before Nadal won all seven of his matches at Roland Garros in straight sets, there was the legendary Bjorn Borg – the Ice-Man – who set the precedent back in 1978 and 1980. However, where Nadal and Laver have only won the Channel Slam twice, Borg is the first – and until now, only – player to have completed it three times consecutively, from 1978 to 1980.
Borg started off his French Open-Wimbledon run with a win over Argentine Guillermo Vilas in Paris, before defeating American left-hander Jimmy Connors at the Championships. He defended both his titles the following year with a win over Paraguay’s Victor Pecci, Sr at the French Open and then against yet another American Roscoe Tanner at Wimbledon.
Borg perhaps hit his peak in 1980, when he won the French Open for the fifth time – this time against Vitas Gerulaitis, and then Wimbledon against his arch-rival, John McEnroe.
Nadal was the champion of all that he saw in 2008. He won the Beijing Olympics and became the world No 1 for the first time. However, encapsulated within these wins, Nadal also won two straight Majors against his familiar nemesis Federer. At the French Open and then at Wimbledon.
The first was expected. The latter, however, saw him brush off rain delays, fading light and a determined Federer. The latter was looking to retain his last bastion and fought off match points to take the match into the fifth set. However, the same determination that had seen Nadal make his mark as a grass-court player, in spite of starting out as a true-blue clay-courter, proved decisive as the Mallorcan kept up his momentum to clinch the decider 9-7, becoming the only player since Mario Ancic in 2002 to defeat Federer at Wimbledon.
From 2006 unto 2008, Federer was a regular at Sunday’s finals at Roland Garros. The result, too, came to be regular in that his most familiar rival Nadal kept beating him with more ease, each passing year. 2008 was the year when Federer hit his ebb on Parisian clay, eking out just four games in quite a lopsided final against the Spaniard. Rightfully then, 2009 was the year he got what he had so long aspired for. And, then some more.
Federer’s path to his lone French Open glory in 2009 came courtesy of the unlikeliest of upsets – of Robin Soderling’s over Rafael Nadal in the fourth round – which left him as the favourite for the tournament. He won gruelling five-setters against Tommy Haas and Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth round and semi-finals respectively to reach the final where Soderling awaited him. This time though, there were no upsets lurking around as Federer wrapped up his win in straight sets.
At Wimbledon though, it was different for Federer who was facing a revived Andy Roddick in the final. The sets were split at two-all, before Federer denied the American yet again at the Championships after winning the fifth set 16-14, to become the second player in the second consecutive year to complete the Channel Slam.