For a long time now, the sport of tennis has excited people the world over. Even in our own cricket mad country, tennis is fairly popular, and nowadays people are following the US Open with great interest. In 1998, tennis in Pakistan got a new life when a rising tennis star, Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, turned pro. I am sure all of you out there are familiar with the excellent feats of Aisam; he created history in Pakistani tennis when he reached the finals of 2010 US Open: Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles.
Interestingly enough, though, he wasn’t the first international tennis player that played for Pakistan. That singular honor goes to Ahmad Hasan Khokhar who became the first Pakistani to represent our country in a Grand Slam tournament, playing at Wimbledon in 1948. Haroon Rahim was another very successful player. Belonging to a family of prominent tennis players, he was the youngest ever singles national champion as well as the youngest to play for Pakistan in Davis Cup competition at 15 years of age. He has not only been the highest ranked singles player in Pakistan’s tennis history (34th in October 1977) but was also the winner of a number of ATP Singles and Doubles titles.
Just about four times a year comes that time in tennis, that time when all the tennis fans are glued to their television sets and all the players are in high gear. And that time is, of course, Grand Slam time! The time when one will undoubtedly see the best tennis come out of the competitors, the time when newcomers entering the pro tennis world have the best opportunity to make their mark. The time that turns top players into legends. These four events are Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and finally the US Open, which is currently in progress (August 22 to September 10).
The Australian Open is held in January, the French Open from late May to early June, Wimbledon in late June to early July, and the US Open in late August to early September, with each played over two weeks.
The Australian Open has the distinction of being the first grand slam event of the year and has been held in mid-January since 1987, which is something that a few players including Federer and Nadal have criticized since it is too close to the Christmas and New Year holidays. As a result, players often fail to gain top form at the time. Before 1987, however, the tournament was shifted quite a bit around the year owing to the extremely high temperatures of Australia, but was ultimately fixed in January. In fact, in 1986, the tournament did not take place because of the date issues. Also, before 1987 the tournament was played on grass, after which it was played on hard court. A retractable roof is now in place so the matches are not disturbed due to rain or extreme heat. The tournament was first held in 1905 and since then has been held in five Australian and two New Zealand cities and is now held at Melbourne Park at the Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and the John Cain Arena. In the open era, the highest number of male single titles have been won by Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams holds the same honor on the female side of the draw.
The women’s singles winner is presented with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. The men’s singles winner is presented with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup. The prize money for the winning player in 2023 was A$2.975 million. Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka are the current holders of the singles title.
The French call it ‘Les internationaux de France de Roland-Garros’ (trouble pronouncing, anyone?) but to the rest of the world, French Open can suffice. It is the only grand slam to always have been played on the clay court which is a slower court and tends to hinder players who depend on big serve and volley games, as was the case with Pete Sampras who enjoyed extraordinary success in all the slams except this one. The first form of the French Open was played in 1891 and was called the French National Tournament and ever since 1928, it has been played at Stade Rolland Garros.
In 1968, the French Championships became the first Grand Slam tournament to go open, allowing both amateurs and professionals to compete. In March 2007, it was announced that the event will provide equal prize money for both men and women in all rounds for the first time, ever. Winners receive a replica of the won trophy. Pure silver replicas of the trophies are fabricated and engraved for each winner by the Maison Mellerio, located in the Rue de la Paix, Paris. The winners of the men’s and women’s singles competitions received a generous prize of £2,004,759 in 2023. The reigning current champions in singles are Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek.
What has become known simply as Wimbledon, one of the most celebrated sporting events in the world, began life in the 1887 as an infinitely smaller competition bearing almost no resemblance to the modern-day championships watched by a global audience of billions. Originally, the tournament was open to only British players, however, Wimbledon turned international in 1905. In the open era, three British players have won Wimbledon singles titles. They are Andy Murray in 2013 and 2016, Virginia Wade in 1977 and Ann Haydon-Jones in 1969. Andy Murray’s win ended a 76-year wait for a men’s singles champion in 2013 when he beat Novak Djokovic just 12 months after losing his first Wimbledon final to Roger Federer. Wimbledon starts on the Monday that falls between 21st and 26th June and like other grand slams lasts for two weeks.
The main show courts, Centre Court and No. 1 Court, are normally used only for two weeks a year, during the Championships, Tradition has a lot to do with Wimbledon. Players are always dressed in white and for a very long time were addressed as Mr and Miss/Mrs. The female players are still addressed as such. Players were supposed to curtsy towards the royal box in case the royal family was in attendance but this practice has been abandoned and the players are only supposed to do so in the presence of the monarch and the Prince of Wales. The Gentlemen’s Singles champion receives a silver gilt cup. The Ladies’ Singles champion receives a sterling silver salver commonly known as the ‘Venus Rosewater Dish’.
The prize money for the singles winners is £2,350,000. The current champions are Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek.
Fun Fact: the ball boy/ball girl uniforms are designed by Ralph Lauren.
US Open started at Rhode Island, off the continental US. The tournament began as an exclusive men’s singles and doubles tournament in 1881. Gradually, it transformed as a two-week sports and entertainment extravaganza. Over the years, it has been played on all three surfaces and is now only played on hard court. It was rechristened from the U.S Championships to the US Open. Its location also changed. Now the tournament is held at Flushing area of New York at the USTA National Tennis Center. The main court is the Arthur Ashe Stadium, opened in 1997. It is named after Arthur Ashe, the African American tennis player who won the men’s final of the inaugural US Open in 1968. The next largest court is Louis Armstrong Stadium. The USTA National Tennis Center was renamed in honor of four-time tournament champion and tennis pioneer Billie Jean King during the 2006 US Open. It is held annually in August and September.
The reigning champions are Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek, but we will have the champions for the year 2023 on 10 September. Singles winners receive $3,000,000 in prize money.
According to some historians, tennis originated in Ancient Egypt, and “racket” is derived from the Arabic word “rakhat,” which means “palm of the hand”. However, the most widespread belief is that tennis was first played by French monks in the 11th and 12th centuries. From 1872, when the first lawn tennis club was founded, tennis started to develop into a professional sport.
Although it is difficult to determine the exact origins of the game, it is widely acknowledged that a British army commander named Walter Clopton Wingfield created tennis rules in 1873, eventually renaming it “lawn tennis.” He saw lawn tennis as having a lot of commercial potentials and copyrighted it, even though he couldn’t explain its invention. In 1877, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) launched the Wimbledon Championship. 200 spectators watched Spencer William Gore beat William Marshall 6–1, 6–2, 6–4 on 19 July 1877 at a cost of one shilling. Today, tickets cost £80 to £255. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tennis comes from the French tenez, meaning “hold!”, “receive!” or “take!”—a call from the server to tell the opponent that they’re about to serve.
Racket derives from the Arabic rakhat, meaning the palm of the hand.
Deuce comes from à deux le jeu, meaning “to both is the game” (both players have the same score).
The origin of the use of Love for zero is thought to derive from “l’oeuf”, the French word for “egg”, which is shaped like a “0”.