First Melbourne, then Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open to finish: the Grand Slam tournaments calendar has never changed since its inception, to the point that it seems inconceivable that it could ever be challenged. Really?
After all, there is no law saying that Australia, France, England and the United States are the only countries allowed to organize a Grand Slam ad infinitum. So why would these four majors be more certain than a 500 Series to be on the ATP calendar next year? On what grounds? In order to understand better, let's proceed to a quick history lesson. It was in 1924 that the International Tennis Federation (ITF) decided that the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open would constitute the major tournaments of the season. Of these four keepers of the flame, Wimbledon is the only tournament that has never changed since its inception in 1877. The U.S. Open was first held on grass courts, in the town of Newport, before moving to New York in 1915. In France, the tournament founded in 1891 was reserved to French tennis players until 1924. It also changed location several times before settling in the Auteuil district of Paris, where the tournament is currently held. An edition even took place in Bordeaux, 500 miles from the capital. As for the Australian Open, it's the one that changed the most, with several host cities (including Christchurch and Hastings... in New Zealand!), before settling in Melbourne in 1972.
Knowing the tournaments history allows us to understand the question better. If this system of distribution of Grand Slam tournaments is almost 90 years old, there have been so many changes of places and surfaces that it seems clear that nothing is fundamentally eternal. For example, what if one of the national federations that manage the organization of the four tournaments decided to disengage? Obviously, this seems unlikely, but the hypothesis can't be totally excluded. Other criteria may also be considered, including the climate issue. On this point, it's Roland Garros that suffered the most criticism in recent years, with uncertain playing conditions when the competition is held in the spring, and while the issue of the central court’s renovation remained unanswered for a long time. It was finally decided that a retractable roof would be built from 2018. It was about time, the organizers of the Madrid Masters would have been delighted to replace the Parisian tournament...
The China Open, so ambitious
But the idea that comes up the most often is to organize a fifth Grand Slam tournament. The ATP and WTA calendars are already very busy, but who cares, some emerging countries are beginning to address the issue, which is not necessarily to displease the international tennis authorities... In 2011, the former president of the ATP, Brad Drewett, who died recently, said: "China has the greatest potential for growth in the world, so it's a great platform for professional tennis," insisting on the "amazing development" of tennis in Asia in recent years. He had, however, rejected the idea of a fifth Grand Slam, considering that China was missing something much more important than structures or money (they both have it): a historical heritage. Charles Hsiung, co-director of the China Open in Beijing, answered, a bit annoyed, "We may not be a Grand Slam tournament, but look around you and you will see that we have nothing to envy".
To counter the ambitions of countries such as China and Malaysia (and its new tennis stadium with a capacity of 16,000 seats, more than the central courts of Melbourne, Paris and Wimbledon...), the organizers of the Australian Open have recently decided to rename the tournament: "the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific." A good way to expand Melbourne’s sphere of influence... That leaves the possibility of a "Grand Slam of the Middle East." A country like Qatar has managed to convince the powerful FIFA to organize the World Cup at home in 2022, so after the best of football, why not also succeed in hosting the best of tennis tournaments one day? "Like Qatar or China we have a lot of money," said Salah Tahlak in 2010, the director of the Dubai Open, which promised the expansion of the Aviation Club, the stadium where the tournament is held, bringing it to 15,000 places in 2012. A project at a standstill. The Dubai Open is still a Masters 500 and the Qatar Open a Masters 250. The keepers of the flame, can therefore rest easily, it's clearly not tomorrow that the four giants will face competition.
By Régis Delanoë