The Volley podcast #13: Djokovic and the calendar Grand Slam – tennis’s ultimate achievement

In the latest episode of our podcast The Volley, there’s only one topic to discuss – the calendar Grand Slam, why it’s still the ultimate test in tennis, and how Novak Djokovic has got himself to this point

September 9, 2021

The tennis Grand Slam – Australian Open, Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in one calendar year.

Five players have already managed it – Don Budge, Rod Laver, Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf – and now Novak Djokovic is on the brink of putting his name in the history books.

All he needs to do is lift the trophy at Flushing Meadows on Sunday evening.

In the latest episode of The Volley, writer and broadcaster Simon Cambers talks to host Max Whittle about the scale of the challenge when it comes to winning all four Grand Slams in a single calendar year. They discuss how pressure can affect even the greatest of champions – and what still motivates Djokovic even after all his achievements.

They set Djokovic’s triumphs so far this season in their historical context – and look ahead to years in the future, speculating whether there might be a player already on tour who could emulate this very special feat.

  • 2.07 – Achieving a Grand Slam in singles – how hard is it? Cambers says it’s the cherry on top of the icing on the cake and the ultimate tennis achievement.
  • 3.22 – Steffi Graf was the last person to achieve the Grand Slam, back in 1988, when the then-19-year-old also won the Olympic gold medal. “She was a phenomenal player,” says Cambers. “That fantastic forehand, the incredible movement she had.” He also suggests that wasn’t even her best year on tour.
  • 4.56 – Getting off to a good start in the calendar year – neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal have ever won the first two Slams of a year, making Djokovic’s campaign in 2021 even more remarkable.
  • 6.30 – Djokovic’s key moment this year – winning Roland-Garros. The victory in Paris reassured him that he would be able to complete the Grand Slam.
  • 7:40 – How pressure can affect great champions – Serena Williams’s efforts to complete the Grand Slam in 2015 show how tough it can be, and Djokovic had his own issues at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer.
  • 9.31 – Can you compare the historic Grand Slams with the modern challenge? “I don’t think you can compare eras perfectly,” says Cambers. “It’s just a phenomenal achievement.”
  • 11.59 – Djokovic’s difficulty to break through after the dominance of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. “That motivation to do something they have not done is the one thing keeping him going more than anything,” suggests Cambers.
  • 13.00 – What’s the hardest thing about winning the Grand Slam? Peaking four times a year, and fending off the young upstarts coming through, says Cambers.
  • 14.30 – What happened to Rod Laver after he completed his second Grand Slam in 1969 – and what might lie in store for Djokovic should he manage the feat.
  • 15.30 – All about Rod Laver – his physical stature, the strength of Australian men’s tennis, and the impact of professionalisation.
  • 17.54 – Is it harder to win the calendar year Grand Slam now than in previous decades?
  • 19.30 – Holding all four Slams at the time but not winning them in the same calendar year – why isn’t that as heralded an achievement? “To start a year, go all the way through it…I just think a calendar year has that magic, that mystique, that four-in-a-row outside a calendar year doesn’t,” says Cambers.
  • 21.42 – Is there a player on tour now who might come close to this achievement in the future? Without Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, it might actually be more likely. “Maybe it’ll be a Carlos Alcaraz – maybe it’ll be someone we haven’t thought of yet,” says Cambers.
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