The Grand Slams - or simply The Slams as they are commonly referred - are the pinnacle of tennis for both players and fans alike. They are the most important events in the tennis calendar, and arguably the sports calendar as a whole… The Slams comprise of four events which you may be familiar with - The French Open, Wimbledon, The U.S. Open and The Australian Open. Each event has a unique draw and challenge for the players, a spectacle which captures the imagination of a truly global audience. The global appeal of course boosted by their prestigious host cities in all corners of the globe; Melbourne, Paris, London, and New York.
In a typical tennis year, which stretches from January to November, these events represent the ‘must-see’ highlights of tennis and for most of modern memory this has happened annually with little disruption. 2020, however, has been an exception. Something we have all been dealing with to varying degrees of severity, COVID-19, has wreaked havoc on sports of all types with the tennis calendar being completely torn up. For fans of the sport, this is a pretty dire situation. Against this backdrop, the French Open has been postponed to late September, Wimbledon has been cancelled outright and the US Open is planned to go ahead as scheduled in late August. At the time of this writing, there is a big question mark hanging over the event due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the US. These few and events matches that do take place will have no spectators and significant limitations to the players in terms of social distancing and the size of their entourage.
Only the 2020 edition of the Australian Open in Melbourne was held with no disruption. It is hoped and expected that 2021 will see a return to normality, though we wouldn't hold our breath just yet. But that is not the purpose of this article, talking about what hasn’t happened. Rather, this article is to discuss a little history and what it takes to be a Grand Slam player. So, we begin with a question: what does it actually take to compete in a Grand Slam?
Competing in a Grand Slam as a single male or female competitor is a privilege reserved only for the best 128 male and female players in the world. There is only one way to get direct access to the main draw, however - be in the top 104 of the world rankings. Besides that, you may hope for a wildcard or put in the time and grit to get through the qualification events.
At Wimbledon, an additional 16 players can gain access if they win three matches held in the qualification events a week before the main tournament. Again this isn’t for everyone as you need to be ranked between 105 and 232 in the world to even get invited, let alone qualify. In addition to the direct entries and the 16 qualifiers, 8 wildcards are issued to make up a total field of 128 players.
It goes without saying that participating in a Grand Slam event like Wimbledon is the dream of every tennis professional, and indeed the rest of us. But the complexity of qualifying for Wimbledon goes even further than that. Enter the pre-qualifying event held at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton…
At Roehampton, a shootout is held to determine who makes it through to the main qualification event at Wimbledon. You have to qualify to qualify, so to speak. If you think that grass tennis equals perfectly groomed lawns, Pimms, strawberries and cream and a very posh audience, you should go to Roehampton and see what really happens there. It is far from glorious. This is where the journeyman players, the young and hopeful, and the established players returning from injury go to battle it out.
In 2016, tennis pro and cherished friend of Enoksen Watch Co., Marcus Willis, decided to give it one last roll of the dice. Despite an enormous talent and determination, Marcus was mentally preparing for a new life as a tennis coach, not one as a successful player. His then new love interest, and now wife, Jennifer convinced him that he had what it took to do well on the biggest stage and finally deliver on the promise he had made as a junior talent, tipped to be able to go all the way.
And so he too went to Roehampton and was granted access to the pre-qualifier event, only by way of his relatively high UK ranking. His world ranking at the time was 772nd, which wouldn't have allowed him near the competition. He quietly won three matches and he had now qualified for the qualifier for Wimbledon. Three more wins and the doors to the most revered tennis courts in the world would open wide. He beat Yūchi Sugita of Japan in the first round. The next round however, he was up against the very talented Russian Audrey Rubley and the outlook didn’t look great. Marcus prevailed, defying the odds and winning in straight sets.
It was here that the British Media machine started to pay attention to the handsome Englishman and his unorthodox left-hand playing style. Surely a man ranked No. 772nd in the world couldn't go all the way?
Standing in his way was another Russian, Daniil Medvedev, today ranked 5th in the world. Again, Marcus prevailed and now everyone was watching him. Marcus Willis was the overnight sensation who dared to dream big.
In the first round of Wimbledon 2016, Marcus was facing Lithuanian Ričardas Berankis. Ranked a whole 700 places above him, Marcus’ victory over him sent the British press into overdrive. Nobody wanted to hear about Andy Murray’s chances, it was all about Marcus Willis and his beautiful fiancé. It was obviously a massive draw that his next challenger was the greatest tennis player the world has ever seen - Roger Federer. This is fairytale perfect storytelling, with the unexpected twist that it is true. The journeyman tennis coach from Warwick Boat Club was facing off against the Swiss titan. David and Goliath. That day, Marcus was the most talked about tennis player in England, if not the world. It would be Federer who ended his incredible run, it was a fine match which earned Willis a lot of respect. In that one week, he made more prize money than he had made in 9 previous years of professional tennis career. That is what it takes to be a Grand Slam player.
So after this long detour, we come back to the Slams. To say we are fans of these fierce and prestigious events is an understatement that we feel is worth marking. To celebrate this, we have designed a range of watches which pay tribute to the efforts of our ambassador Mikael Pernfors and his efforts in New York, London, Paris and Melbourne. Read all about Mikael’s experiences at these four slams in the blog article Mikael and The Slams.