Grand slam time

Well, that’s that for another year.  In the (current) absence of rain, I’ll wrap up with the tennis majors etymology I promised.

Grand Slam

As tennis fans will be well aware, the four major tournaments of the tennis season are the Australian Open, Roland Garros (the French Open), Wimbledon, and the US Open, together known as the Grand Slam.

The term ‘grand slam’ comes from the card game whist; meaning to take all the tricks, it dates from the early 19th century.  The term was first applied in a sports context, referring to the golf majors, in 1930, and to tennis from 1933: in both cases, coined by sports journalists.


These tournaments – and indeed most modern competitions – are called open as players of any status are allowed to compete.  Up until 1968, nearly all tournaments were closed, being limited to amateur players only.*


Wimbledon All England Tennis Club from the air
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club – better known simply as Wimbledon

As a place name Wimbledon dates from at least the 10th century and derives from the Old English Wunemannedune, meaning Wunemanne‘s Hill (who Wunemanne was is, sadly, lost to history).

The first Wimbledon tournament was held in 1877, for men only; women had to wait until 1884 before the first Ladies’ Championship was held.  As early as 1895 Wimbledon was synonymous with the tennis championships held there.

The Wimbledon Gentleman's Singles Trophy (picture from
I spy something beginning with p…

Random Wimbledon fact: the Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy has a pineapple on its lid.  Pineapples were a symbol of wealth and generosity as, until quite recently, they had to be imported to the UK at great cost.

 Roland Garros (the French Open)

Unlike Wimbledon, which has been at the same venue from the start, the competition that became the French Open moved around a number of venues before settling at the then newly-built Roland Garros stadium in 1928.  The competition and venue are now, much like Wimbledon, synonymous.

Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros, aviation pioneer and war hero
Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros, aviation pioneer and war hero

The purpose-built tennis complex was built on land donated in return for a promise to name the new stadium after French aviator, inventor, WW1 hero and tennis fan Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros.

Aged only 29 when he died after his plane was shot down by a German aircraft, Roland Georges Garros managed to cram an amazing amount into his short life.  He was an aviation pioneer who started flying planes in 1909 – the first powered flight having taken place only in 1903 – and was the first person to fly non-stop across the Mediterranean.  At the start of World War One he enlisted and became the victor of the world’s first air battle, against a German airship.  He later invented a device that allowed pilots to fire guns from the front of their planes without shooting their own propellers (previously planes would have a pilot and a gunner, who would shoot at enemy aircraft from the back of the plane), for which he was awarded medals by both France and the US.  After crashing behind enemy lines in 1915, Roland Georges Garros spent nearly three years in a POW camp, making several escape attempts before finally successfully escaping in early 1918; he promptly returned to the French air force only to be killed in action in October of the same year.

A truly remarkable man who deserves to be better remembered than he is.

Flushing Meadow (US Open)

The US Open has only been held at Flushing Meadows, New York (official title: USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center) since 1978, having previously been based at the Forest Hills Stadium, also in New York.

The name Flushing is derived from the original Dutch name of a nearby town Vlissingen**, which was established in the mid seventeenth century.  The area was left semi-wild to provide settlers with trees for wood and grass for their livestock to eat (hence Meadows).  The site was developed into a park for the 1939 World’s Fair and used again for the 1964 World’s Fair, with the stadium developed for the 1964 event becoming the home of the US Open when the tournament moved in in 1978.

Flushing Meadows - Corona Park
Flushing Meadows – Corona Park, showing the famous globe designed for the 1964 World’s Fair.

The site’s full name is Flushing Meadows – Corona Park, Corona being another nearby town.  (The name Corona is the Spanish / Italian word for crown; the town, which was originally, rather unimaginatively, called West Flushing, was renamed around 1870 when it was redeveloped by the Crown Building Company.)

Australian Open

I have left the Aussie Open until last, despite it being the first major of the year, simply because, etymologically speaking, it is the least interesting of the major tournaments.

The modern Australian Open is held in a purpose-built sports complex in Melbourne Park in Melbourne, where it has been since the complex was opened in 1988.

A portrait of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, in his Prime Ministerial days

Melbourne was named after the UK Prime Minister in post at the time of the city’s founding, Viscount Melbourne.***  The Viscount’s family name was taken from the ancestral home, Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire; the name simply means mill stream (bourne being another word for a stream).  That’s about as interesting as the etymology gets, I’m afraid!


And that’s it on the subject of tennis.  What should I do next?  Suggestions below, please!


* These days, the word amateur is often not a compliment, implying a lack of skill and / or dedication.  Until not that long ago, though, being an amateur was a good thing and being called a professional was an insult, implying a person was doing something purely for money (e.g. the oldest profession as a euphemism for prostitution). Isn’t it strange how words can change their meanings without actually changing their meanings?
** It was named after a port city in the Netherlands which is now a popular seaside resort and, confusingly, seems also to sometimes be called Flushing.
*** Who has the distinction of being the last PM to be dismissed by the reigning monarch – not, I suspect, the sort of thing for which he would want to remembered!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s