For Sports Immortality, The 3rd Or 4th Time's The Charm Tennis players Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic both have the potential to win Grand Slams, one of the rarest achievements in sports. But it's not an easy feat.
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For Sports Immortality, The 3rd Or 4th Time's The Charm

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For Sports Immortality, The 3rd Or 4th Time's The Charm

For Sports Immortality, The 3rd Or 4th Time's The Charm

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

An exceptionally highly trained and high-achieving horse has a chance at the elusive Triple Crown next week. And commentator Frank Deford points out that America Pharaoh is not the only athlete going for a shot at sports immortality.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Hardly a sport exists that hasn't created some titled version of a designated annual multiple achievement. Two is not enough. No, you got to win three or four. They are crowns and slams. I would say the best-known are a couple of crowns and three slams, to wit, the Triple Crowns of thoroughbred racing and for baseball hitters and the Grand Slams of men's and women's tennis and men's golf. I'm sorry. I just can't fit women's golf in because it not only revises its major tournaments so often, but, in fact, now women's golf has five major tournaments, which is one too many. And anyway, unlike crown and slam, there's no neat name that goes with five. Even a fifth of whiskey is passe now that we're into liquor liters. But here's the thing - as rare as it is, we are looking at what could be a crowning achievement of the year, a veritable 2015 slam dunk.

Starting off on D Day, or Diadem Day for our purposes, American Pharaoh will attempt to become the first equine Triple Crown winner in 37 years. This is by statute the hardest of these sorts of things, too, because the horse only gets one shot at it as a 3-year-old.

Moreover, that same weekend in Paris, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic can, by winning the French Open, get halfway to the Grand Slams of tennis, and since both are blitzing their opposition, they're heavy favorites. Rafael Nadal's taken nine of the last 10 French Opens, but he's vulnerable on clay this spring. So if Djokovic wins on the red dirt, he'd be in a position to sweep Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to become the first male Grand Slammer in 46 years since Rod Laver in 1969. If Serena were to win all four, she'd be the first woman to do it since Steffi Graf a mere 27 years ago.

You see, winning slams or crowns sure ain't easy. The only time in the 21st century that it's been accomplished in any of these categories was when Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers managed it in 2012 - that the first time in 45 years. And no golfer has ever won the modern professional slam, although the title was appropriated from a card game - from bridge- when Bobby Jones, an amateur, did win all four U.S. and British Amateurs and Opens in 1930. The Triple Crown came into common currency that same year when Gallant Fox won all three 3-year-old spring classics. And if you can figure out a snappy collective name for that excessive quintet of women's golf majors, give me five.

MONTAGNE: And you can hear Frank Deford here each Wednesday on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

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