What Is a Grand Slam Tennis Tournament?

Serena Williams on her way to victory at Wimbledon in 2012.
i Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

If you’re an aspiring tennis pro who thinks big, your goal may be to win one of the Grand Slam tournaments: The French Open, Australian Open, U.S. Open or the queen of them all, Wimbledon. Winning a grand slam event brings you immediate fame and a nice payday, and perhaps more importantly, etches your name in the tennis history books forever.

French Open

The French Open is the only Grand Slam tournament played on a clay court, which is a slower surface than the synthetic or grass courts of the other Grand Slam events. French Open winners require stamina and must be accurate shotmakers to survive long rallies because the clay court limits the effectiveness of a power game. The French Open dates from 1891 -- 1897 for women. It was originally called the French Championships and was not open to foreigners. Non-French citizens began playing in 1925. The event moved to its current home, Roland Garros Stadium in Paris, in 1928. Women received less prize money than men until 2007, making the French Open the last Grand Slam event to equalize the men’s and women’s prizes.

Australian Open

Traditionally held in January -- in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer -- the Australian Open is the first Grand Slam tournament played each year. The event dates from 1905, although women first played in 1922. The tournament moved around Australia before settling in Melbourne in 1972. Margaret Court Arena, named for the 11-time Australian Open singles champion, is the event’s current home. The Australian Open was played on grass until 1987, then on synthetic courts. In 2008 the tournament switched to a Plexicushion surface, which is similar to the U.S. Open’s courts but plays a bit slower.

U.S. Open

The U.S. Open began as the U.S. National Singles Championship, for men only, held in Rhode Island in 1881. The first U.S. women’s championships were held in Philadelphia in 1887. Both events moved to Forest Hills, New York, in 1915. The U.S. Open moved a few miles down the road to Flushing Meadows in 1978. It’s now played in Arthur Ashe Stadium, which is part of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, named for the four-time U.S. Open singles champion. The U.S. Open was a grass court event through 1974, was played on clay for three years, then moved to DecoTurf -- a relatively fast synthetic surface -- in 1978.


Officially called “The Championships, Wimbledon,” tennis’ most prestigious event has been held at Wimbledon’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club since 1877. A women’s event, still referred to as the “ladies’ singles,” was added in 1884. The tournament is played on fast grass courts rhat reward a power game. Although baseliners such as three-time Wimbledon singles champion Chris Evert can succeed, Wimbledon champions more often feature a strong serve and play an attacking style. The two main courts, where the championship matches are held, are only used during the Wimbledon tournament. Members of the British royal family often attend Wimbledon matches.


All four Grand Slam women’s events employ a best-of-three-set format. If one of the first two sets is tied at 6-6, the set is determined by a tiebreaker in which the first player to reach 7 points, with at least a 2-point margin, wins the set. The U.S. Open also uses a third-set tiebreaker. If the score reaches 6-6 in the third set of the other Grand Slam tournaments, competitors continue playing until one woman achieves a two-game margin.

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