Home favourite, Ken Rosewall, defeated Arthur Ashe in straight sets in the final of the 1971 Australian Open final, and it marked the first time in the Open Era that a player had won a Grand Slam without dropping a single set. Having played just 15 sets, it seemed quite a remarkable record at the time, and even more so now. And while a few others may have achieved it in the subsequent years, the first time is always the first time. It can be argued that Rosewall’s record was easy to achieve because he had to play just five matches to win his tournament and that few rival professional played in the tournament. But he followed up his victory with another Australian Open title in the next year, this time just dropping one set en route to his win.
The early ‘70s seemed to produce stunning records. Following Rosewall’s achievements at the Australian Open, fellow Australian John Newcombe decided to join along his countryman. The then No.2 seed, Newcombe made the most of the exit of Rosewall, and went on to win the Australian Open in 1973, having dropped just one set during the whole course of the tournament, that is, in the final. Once again, Newcombe played in a similar format to that in earlier tournaments, featuring a first round bye for seeded players and just five subsequent matches.
Arthur Ashe won the 1970 Australian Open beating Dick Crealy 6-4, 9-7, 6-2 in the finals. It was his first Australian Open Title, and his second of three Grand Slam titles. Even though Ashe played just 17 sets during the tournament, the fact that must be noted is that none of the sets actually featured any tiebreaks, and would go on until a player won two games in a row after 5-5. Hence, Ashe actually came out on top in most of his sets, including one with a score line of 17-15. However, it still remains a tremendous achievement and a memorable run for the American.
The talented but volatile John McEnroe rose to prominence as a 19-year-old when he won the Tour finals in 1978. However, it was his first Grand Slam win that actually announced his arrival to the tennis world. McEnroe dropped just one set during the whole tournament against Ilie Nastase in the second round. He also got a walkover in the third round. In the quarterfinals, it was McEnroe’s opponent who retired in the first set. McEnroe went on to end Jimmy Connors’ five consecutive finals at the US Open streak in the semifinals and followed it up with a straight sets victory in the final to win his maiden Grand Slam. The 1979 US Open featured newer rules, including tiebreakers and seven rounds of matches.
The legendary Rod Laver started the romance of Australians at their home tournaments, winning his 8th Grand Slam title and his 3rd home title at the 1969 Australian Open. Laver completed the Grand Slam that year, winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in the year, becoming the first in the Open Era to do so. Laver dropped 3 sets, and went on to win the tournament, but there were a few tussles he was part of, including an epic five-setter against countryman Tony Roche in the semifinals 7-5, 22-20, 9-11, 1-6, 6-3. Mind you… These matches didn’t have tiebreaks! He also beat six-time Australian Open Champion Roy Emerson on the way. Certainly a dominating result for a player who continued his dominance for the rest of the season. Legend.
Other players to win a Grand Slam in few sets include:
18 – Guillermo Villas – US Open, 1977
19 – Johan Kriek – Australian Open, 1982
19 – Jimmy Connors – US Open, 1976
19 – Ilie Nastase – French Open, 1973