Most sports stars are happy plying their trade at the top end of their chosen profession, occasionally flirting with greatness.
For others, being considered the best in the business is the driving force that propels them out of bed in the morning and onto the practice pitch, the gym or whatever potential-maximising path they might take.
Novak Djokovic, for instance, seems to be getting better with age – he is tennis’ very own Benjamin Button. The Serbian is acutely aware that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are coming to the end of their careers, and that he has a golden chance to establish himself as the most decorated men’s champion in the history of the sport.
So good is the 34-year-old that he actually had a chance of completing a record that only becomes available once every four years….
What is the Golden Slam?
Having won the Australian Open at the start of the year, Djokovic has kicked on this spring and summer – first triumphing in the French Open, his least favoured Grand Slam event, and following up with victory on the hallowed grass of Wimbledon.
With victory in the US Open in September, Djokovic would be able to complete the ‘calendar year slam’, which is no mean feat in itself.
But the next level up is the Golden Slam, and you might just be able to figure out what that is. As well as the four regular majors in the tennis season, the Golden Slam champion also goes on to win the gold medal at the Olympic Games.
For Djokovic, sadly that chance came to an end when he was defeated by Alex Zverev in the semi-finals of the men’s singles in Tokyo. The German will now face Karen Khachanov in the gold medal match.
Novak’s dreams of completing the Golden Slam are over, and at 34 it seems doubtful that he will get another chance to try and create a unique slice of tennis history.
And so the members of the Golden Slam club will remain at four for the foreseeable future….including one extraordinary athlete that completed the feat in a single calendar year.
Steffi Graf (1988)
The legendary German has achieved something that surely nobody – not even Djokovic himself now – will replicate.
Graf won all four Grand Slam events in 1988, and with confidence riding high she travelled to Seoul for the ’88 Olympics. There, to the surprise of nobody, she defeated Gabriela Sabatini in the final to clinch the gold medal too.
Graf’s halcyon year was all the more intriguing given that she had only ever won one major prior to 1988, but something clicked that year….and to some tune.
The German’s brilliance started at the Australian Open, where she didn’t drop a single set before defeating Chris Evert in the final.
Her dominance continued a the French Open, where she reached the semi-finals and dropped just eleven games along the way. At the business end, she downed Sabatini and trounced Natasha Zverev 6-0 6-0 in the final.
Graf’s first Wimbledon title saw her drop a first set in a Grand Slam event that year, but Martina Navratilova’s resistance would soon be ended in resounding 5-7 6-2 6-1 fashion.
With Olympic gold secured, Graf had just one more obstacle to overcome – the US Open – in her pursuit of the Golden Slam. She had a slice of luck along the way, with Evert withdrawing from their semi-final through illness, and her nemesis in ’88 Sabatini taking a set of the final.
But, once again, Graf battled through and lifted the trophy after a 6-3 3-6 6-1 win. She had done it – the seasonal Golden Slam. A feat that may never be matched….
Golden Slam Honorary Mentions
Three other players have completed the career Golden Slam, but nobody has gotten close to doing it in a solitary season.
It’s perhaps fitting that the future Mr Graf, Andre Agassi, was the second Golden Slam hero. But the popular American had to do it the hard way, with seven years passing between his win at Wimbledon (1992) and his confirmatory triumph at the French Open in 1999.
In the middle of that, he won one of the other majors per year, including the US Open in 1994, the Australian in ’95 and Olympic gold on home soil in Atlanta in 1996.
The third inductee into the Golden Slam club was Rafa Nadal. He opened his major account, unsurprisingly given he has gone on to win 13 times there, at the French Open in 2005, before waiting three years to take down Wimbledon and the Olympic gold in Beijing.
An Australian Open triumph followed in 2009, before a lengthy wait to prevail at the US Open – where he is adored – finally came to an end in 2010, and the Golden Slam was complete.
The fourth and final member of the Golden Slam club is Serena Williams, who had to wait a remarkable 13 years to finally get hers over the line.
It all began at the US Open in 1999, where the pluckiest of youngsters lifted the title at the grand old age of 18. One of the best years of Serena’s career followed in 2002, when she won the French and Wimbledon, before finally getting over the line in the Australian Open in 2003.
But would Serena ever win an Olympic gold medal? It took her quite some time, and yet it was almost fitting that she completed the feat at Wimbledon as part of the 2012 Games – a venue that has brought her so much joy over the years.