EVEN BEFORE flying to Great Britain, Jordan Spieth and Serena Williams were already halfway home. Each has completed 50% of a Grand Slam—Spieth by winning golf's Masters and U.S. Open, and Williams by winning tennis's Australian and French Opens.
In the theater of sports, Williams (who has July 11, the date of the Wimbledon women's final, circled on her calendar) and Spieth (who can win the British Open eight days later) now share a stage. But on the playing surfaces, there is a big difference in their quests. Williams is on a mission. Spieth is on mission impossible.
Perhaps impossible is too strong. But if you're betting the house on a Spieth Slam, we sure hope you own another house. Spieth's Grand Slam dream is so unlikely that if he actually pulls it off, it would be the greatest achievement in the history of his sport.
Spieth is an undeniably great player, a rare combination of talent, intelligence, patience and confidence. But golf doesn't submit to dominance. There are too many variables, too many kinds of courses and too many good players competing at once.
Only one other golfer has won a calendar-year Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, who did it in 1930. Back then the Grand Slam consisted of the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur. Jones had not even founded the Masters yet. It's fair to say the competition is stiffer these days.
Since Jones won his Slam, only three players have even won three straight: Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Hogan picked off a trio in 1953, but he had to skip the PGA in order to get to the British, and he lost his next major, the '54 Masters, in a playoff. Nicklaus lost his chance at a Jack Slam when Lee Trevino beat him by a stroke at the British in 1972.
Woods actually won four in a row, the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA in 2000, followed by the '01 Masters. But a Spieth Slam would be more stunning than that Tiger Slam because of Spieth's age.
Woods had already won two majors when his Slam began, and he was a 26-year-old in his fifth full PGA Tour season when it ended. Spieth will turn 22 on July 27. He did not even qualify for the Masters until 2014, and he did not win a major until April. If he essentially opens his career with four straight major championships, it would be like a newborn baby walking out of the hospital.
Woods completed his Slam largely because he had an unprecedented margin for error. He was far superior to anybody else in the field—he won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes and the British by eight. Spieth is terrific. He just isn't as dominant as Woods was.
But Williams is.
Williams has not quite gotten her due in the modern media climate, where all the takes are hot. Critics often use her talent against her, as they do with LeBron James; like James, Williams has been so great that people wonder why she isn't even better. At times she looks as if she should not only win every match, but every set and every game.
Still, her career matches up with any in women's tennis history, and a Grand Slam would feel like the natural culmination. Williams has already captured, for her, the most difficult piece of the Slam: the French, where clay courts limit the potency of her serve. What remains is Wimbledon, which she has won five times, and the U.S. Open, which she has won six times. If she prevails in both, she will be tennis's first Grand Slam winner since Steffi Graf in 1988.
Nobody is saying it will be easy. But Williams might make it look easy.
At the Old Course—and, if he wins there, at the PGA in August—Spieth will have to battle nerves with every shot, especially on the weekend. Williams plays with the knowledge that a mis-hit in tennis is not nearly as devastating as one mis-hit in golf—and with the confidence of a woman who has done this before.
In 2002--03, Williams completed the Serena Slam, four straight majors across two calendar years. If she wins Wimbledon this month, that would give her yet another Serena Slam. And then she would head to New York in late August riding a pair of ridiculous streaks: four straight majors, and three straight U.S. Open championships. This could be the Summer of Spieth. It is far more likely to be the Summer of Serena.
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