The lush lawns of the All England Club and the hard courts of the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York may feel like worlds apart, but for the current generation of male players the task of bridging the gap between Wimbledon and the US Open is clearly achievable.
If Roger Federer can follow up his Wimbledon triumph of last month with victory at Flushing Meadows over the next fortnight it will be the eighth time in the last 14 years that a man has achieved that particular double.
Garbine Muguruza will also be attempting to complete a Wimbledon-New York double, though recent evidence suggests it has been a more challenging task for the leading women. Since Serena Williams backed up her first Wimbledon title in 2002 with victory in the US Open two months later, the feat has been repeated only once by a woman, by Williams herself in 2012.
Federer is the only man in history to have done this particular double four times. He did it every year between 2004 and 2007 during a period in which he utterly dominated the men’s game. At that time his run of success at the highest level was generally broken only by Rafael Nadal’s triumphs on clay at the French Open.
Nadal himself did the Wimbledon-US Open double in 2010, while Novak Djokovic has done it twice, in 2011 and 2015. Djokovic is one of eight players – alongside Bill Tilden (1920 and 1921), Fred Perry (1934 and 1936), Donald Budge (1937 and 1938), Rod Laver (1962 and 1969), Jimmy Connors (1974 and 1982), John McEnroe (1981 and 1984) and Pete Sampras (1993 and 1995) – to have performed the feat twice, but Federer is the only player to have done it four times.
The first man to do the double was Britain’s Laurie Doherty, who won the gentlemen’s singles title at The Championships five years in a row between 1902 and 1906.
When he retained his Wimbledon title in 1903 Doherty had to win only one match, against Frank Riseley in the Challenge Road. In the US Nationals that year Doherty beat William Larned in the final to become the first man ever to win a Grand Slam singles trophy outside his own country. In 1920 Bill Tilden became the second man to win both tournaments in the same year.
It was not until 1927 that Helen Wills became the first player to win the ladies’ singles title at The Championships and to triumph on the other side of the Atlantic in the same year.
May Sutton had been the first woman to win both titles but did so in different years, claiming the US title at the age of 17 in 1904 and then winning at The Championships at the first attempt the following year without dropping a set. She beat Dorothea Douglass in the Challenge Round.
Wills had already won her own national title three times when she won the ladies’ singles at The Championships for the first time in 1927. Britain’s Gwen Sterry took a set off Wills in the first round at the All England Club but thereafter the American won all her matches in straight sets, beating Spain’s Lili de Alvarez in the final. Later in the summer Wills completed the Wimbledon-US double, beating Britain’s Betty Nuthall in the final.
In nine appearances at The Championships between 1924 and 1938 Wills lost only one ladies’ singles match, to Britain’s Kitty McKane in the final in her debut year in 1924. She won the title eight times and no player in the history of The Championships can match her record of 50 consecutive singles victories.
By the 1930s the Wimbledon-US double had almost become commonplace. Perry and Budge did it twice, while Wills did it again in both 1928 and 1929. However, the only other woman to do the double before the war was Alice Marble, who had a remarkable year at The Championships in 1939. The American beat Britain’s Kay Stammers in the singles final and teamed up with Sarah Fabyan to win the doubles and with Bobby Riggs to take the mixed title.
Since the Second World War the double has become less of a rarity. The gentlemen’s singles winner at The Championships has gone on to win the US title 23 more times, while the ladies’ singles champion has won it 27 more times.
Maureen Connolly (1952 and 1953), Althea Gibson (1957 and 1958), Margaret Court (1965 and 1970), Billie Jean King (1967 and 1972), Venus Williams (2000 and 2001) and Serena Williams (2002 and 2012) all did the double twice, but the most prolific winners were Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.
Navratilova did the double four times in five years (1983, 1984, 1986 and 1987), while Steffi Graf did it five times (in 1988, 1989, 1993, 1995 and 1996), which is more than any player in history.
The first man to complete a “double double” of the Wimbledon and US titles was Laver, who became the only man in history to complete two pure Grand Slams - winning all four major titles in the same year – when he swept the board in both 1962 and 1969.
Connors, McEnroe, Sampras and Djokovic went on to do the double twice, while Federer now has the chance to match Graf’s record of five Wimbledon-US doubles in the same year. Given what the 36-year-old Swiss has achieved this year, it would amount to one of the greatest triumphs in tennis history if he can keep on winning for one more tournament.