Is Tennis a 3 Continent Sport?
On Saturday night, Naomi Osaka won the 2018 US Open Women’s Singles Event. She is the first Japanese player to ever win a singles grand slam title. When you consider the fact that tennis is one of the most popular sports in Japan, with a version called soft tennis being played in most schools, and that they actually won their first olympic gold medal in tennis, along with their population of 127 million people, it is very surprising it has taken this long for a singles champion. What you may find even more surprising is that, out of all of Asia, all 49 countries and 4.46 billion people, there have only ever been 2 grand slam singles winners, Osaka and Li Na from China.
When we think about it, almost all grand slam singles champions come from one of three continents, North America (specifically America), Europe and Oceania (specifically Australia). These continents host the 4 grand slams, so it is natural to assume they are hubs for tennis performance. Other continents are starting to host more high level tournaments, such as the Rio and Mexican Open, both ATP 500 events, taking place in South America. The continent that has been making the most headway in terms of events though is Asia, specifically after the US Open. Between September and October, they host an ATP Masters event, 2 ATP 500 events, 2 ATP 250 events, 3 WTA Premier events, 6 WTA International events along with the WTA Year End finals which are hosted in Singapore. One continent that is sheerly lacking in tournaments is Africa. Morocco hold an ATP 250 event and WTA International event, but that is it.
As mentioned earlier, Asia have only ever had 2 Grand Slam Singles champions, Li Na of China in 2011 and 2014, and now Naomi Osaka of Japan. Out of the 947 Grand Slam singles events that have ever occurred, to only have 3 Asian titles is very low. It is even lower than Africa, which has 4 between Johan Kriek of South Africa in 1981, and Jaroslav Drobny of Egypt in 1951, 1952 and 1954. Drobny’s obviously taking place before the Open Era. South America has the best performance record, with 8 different Grand Slam Singles Champions collecting a combined 20 titles. They consist of an Ecuadorian Andres Gomez, a Peruvian Alex Olmedo, a Mexican Rafael Osuna, 3 Argentineans, Juan Martin del Potro, Gaton Gaudio and Guillermo Vilas, and 2 Brazilians, Gustavo Kuertan and Maria Bueno. Maria is the only woman from South America to ever win a Grand Slam title, and she actually managed to win 7. Argentina did also record a Davis Cup win in 2016.
Overall there is a clear discrepancy between tennis in Europe/North America/Oceania and Asia/South America/Africa. This is sadly not an uncommon issue, not only for tennis. This game is a very affluent and expensive sport, and requires many factors to go your way to make it to the top. I am sure that in years to come there will be more Asian grand slam champions, Kei Nishikori and Chung Hyeon come to mind, especially due to the amount of investment and number of tournaments they now have. Africa nearly had another Grand Slam Champion in Kevin Anderson of South Africa at Wimbledon this year, and there is always a chance of another great performance by the gentle giant. South America already have the most titles, and with the form del Potro is on, you can not count him out of any event.