Grand Slams Beckon in June
JUNE always begins with hopes of Grand Slams still alive in a variety of sports, only to end with few (if any) remaining. And so it promises to be in 1993.
Women's tennis has already lost its chance with the stabbing injury that forced Monica Seles to the sidelines. Seles, who has dominated women's tennis in the last couple of years as few athletes have in any sport, came within one victory of a slam in both 1991 and '92. She clearly began this year as the player most likely to achieve one, and had launched her new bid successfully by winning the Australian Open.
Australian men's champion Jim Courier has advanced to the quarterfinals of the French Open, which continues through next weekend. Courier won both the French and the Australian a year ago, though, before faltering at Wimbledon and the US Open. In any case, it is always a long shot that one player will sweep all four tournaments.
Indeed, in the nearly 70 years the feat has been recorded, one can still count all male and female grand slammers on the fingers of one hand: Don Budge, 1938; Maureen Connolly, 1953; Rod Laver, 1962 and 1969; Margaret Smith Court, 1970; and Steffi Graf, 1988.
Golf's Grand Slam is even rarer. In fact, when Masters champion Bernhard Langer tees it up in the US Open at the historic Baltusrol course in Springfield, N.J., on June 17, he'll be seeking the second leg of a sweep no one has accomplished.
It's true that in 1930 Bobby Jones created the term by winning the US and British Opens plus the US and British Amateurs. But the closest anyone has come to the currently recognized slam - Masters, US Open, British Open, and PGA - was in 1953 when Ben Hogan won all but the PGA. No one else has ever won more than two in a single year.
Women's golf also recognizes a Grand Slam, consisting presently of the US Open, LPGA, du Maurier Classic, and Nabisco Dinah Shore, but no one has ever won it, either.
Horse racing also offers a "slam" with its Triple Crown - a feat that has also become very rare - last occurring in the '70s with Secretariat in 1973 and Affirmed in 1978. This year's classics conclude with the Belmont Stakes in New York on Saturday, but already a sweep has been missed because of Sea Hero's victory in the Kentucky Derby followed by Prairie Bayou's triumph in the Preakness. Three-time winners also rare
Another rare feat is for a team to "threepeat" - a relatively recent term coined for winning three consecutive championships. Lately, an extraordinarily high number of teams have had a shot, but so far they've all learned what most of their predecessors also found out: that third title is the most elusive of all.
Duke failed to become the first three-time NCAA basketball champion since UCLA in the 1970s; then the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins were upset by the New York Islanders to end their dream of three straight Stanley Cups.
A fascinating situation has been playing out for a half dozen years in pro basketball, where no team has won three National Basketball Association championships in a row since the Boston Celtics in their glory years of the 1960s. Los Angeles had a chance after winning in 1987 and '88 but was thwarted by Detroit. The Pistons then made a bid with victories in 1989 and '90, but also failed to threepeat. Now it's Chicago's turn, after winning in '91 and '92. The Bulls, too, have found the going tough - losin g the first two games of their best-of-seven Eastern final against the New York Knicks before rebounding with a big win in Chicago Saturday.
Baseball also has a potential "threepeater" in the Atlanta Braves, who have won two straight National League pennants. The Braves have a good chance for another division title and a shot at a threepeat, but there's a lot of history stacked against them: The last NL team to do it was the wartime St. Louis Cardinals in 1942-44 - and that was before the playoff system made it theoretically even more difficult. Oddly, the American League has seen it happen several times since then - by the New York Yankee po werhouses of the 1950s and '60s, and by the Oakland A's in the '70s and again a few years ago (1988-90).