Inside Tennis asked a dozen of the world-leading tennis journalists who've covered all four Slams to rank the four majors in the order of their preference.
1 Australian Open: What every sporting even-never mind tennis event-ought to aspire to. Accessible, affordable, filled with rabid and knowledgeable fans. There's an emphasis on fun and entertainment that threads the entire event. Plus, its spot on the calendar is as much a blessing as a curse. The players arrive relatively fresh, healthy and full of optimism, so there's a vibe that eludes the other events. Selfishly, I just wish it were closer to home.
2 French Open: Hard to go wrong with Paris in the spring. Plus, the mesmeric color and quality of the clay gets bonus points. But it's the Old Europe sensibilities - the wine list at the snack bars, the orange trees on the grounds, the statues and on-site newspaper kiosk -that get me every time.
3 U.S. Open: Bigger isn't always better, but there's some virtue in the large scale. Part of the U.S. Open's sheer size occasions chaos and crass commercialization. But the size also means 20,000 fans staying up late to watch Fabrice Santoro, that after spending so much time on the margins, tennis becomes a big-time sport for two weeks. Much like Manhattan, if you learn the tricks of the Open (take the Long Island Railroad and don't drive; forsake Ashe Stadium during the day and repair to the Grandstand Court; avoid the food court but eat at the reasonably-priced Indian food concession) it gets smaller in a hurry. Not least, there's the tennis. This event tends to breed the best tennis, as the surface is the most democratic.
4 Wimbledon: This is like picking a fourth-favorite ice cream. (It doesn't mean I dislike WB; I just don't like it as much as the others.) For one, grass has crossed the line between quaint and anachronistic. It's just hard to warm to a surface on which virtually no player is weaned. The exclusivity is icky, the rain maddening, the food inedible. Any self-respecting tennis fan should try and get to the All-England once. But once is enough.
1 Australian Open: To leave Britain's damp little rock in January and arrive in the middle of the Melbourne summer is a great way to start the season. The flight is hellish, but the reward is fabulous. The atmosphere is relaxed, but the crowds are passionate, informed and sometimes hilarious. Everything works, everyone is friendly and Melbourne is, quite simply, a great place to be.
2 Wimbledon: I get to sleep in my own bed, so this one has to be one of my favorite places to work. Yes, it's traditional, reserved and it always rains-but there's no place quite like Wimbledon. Like the swan on the river, it's calm and serene above, but underneath, there is frantic paddling to keep the whole thing moving in the right direction. And there are no night matches, thus proving that Britain is still the home of civilized society.
3 French Open: Like the rest of Paris, Roland Garros is small, cramped and packed tight with too many people desperate to look good and eat well. Thanks to the clay, each match has the potential to last for a week-and-a-half (and the last match of the day invariably eats into the evening), and thanks to it being in Paris, you are never quite sure what is going to work and when. Nevertheless, it has a certain charm-a sort of chaotic chic-that makes you want to go back again.
4 U.S. Open: Oh dear. It's too big, too loud and too long. With night sessions that can end well into the next morning and spectators more concerned with their calorific intake than the tennis in front of them, a fortnight in Flushing Meadows is an endurance test. Most of the seats in Ashe Stadium provide a wonderful view of the Manhattan skyline (just to remind you that you are not actually in the city itself but parked out in a concrete monstrosity) but, alas, those same seats provide little by way of a view of the tennis. New York is a fabulous place but, unfortunately, the U.S. Open ain't.
New York Times, International Herald Tribune
1 Wimbledon: Pros: Centre Court and generally fine blend of old and new; muffled sound of ball bouncing on the grass. Cons: prices, crowds on outside courts, difficulty in procuring tickets, long walk for access.
2 Australian Open: Pros: Public enthusiasm, city center location, Laver Arena's atmosphere-particularly at night, on-site festival feel, retractable roofs. Cons: Heat, grounds have improved but still lack in charm.
3 French Open: Pros: Paris nearby, clay-court game is a thing of beauty - particularly with shadows across clay in late afternoon, reshuffling of deck in terms of dominant players, Court One. Cons: Crowding on outside courts and on grounds is a real problem, price.
4 U.S. Open: Pros: Public enthusiasm, room to roam, hard-court surface makes for high-quality matches. Cons: Distance from Manhattan, access, concrete jungle feeling persists, cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium, lack of gravitas.
Le Figaro (France)
1 Wimbledon: Pros: Wonderful facilities, historical, subdued and restful atmosphere. Cons: Food.
2 Australian Open:: Pros: Summer and festive atmosphere, being surrounded by smiling and happy people. Cons: The men's tournament happening all at night during the second week, the men's final in prime time and the eternal loss of the traditional image of the two finalists hitting under a warm sun and very bright light.
3 French Open: Pros: Greenish surroundings, classy atmosphere even though it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. Cons: The feeling of being stuck in an overcrowded elevator, Chatrier is definitely too small.
4 U.S. Open: Pros: Sunset on the Manhattan skyline, the abundant space and facilities. Cons: Food (except for the Ben and Jerry's ice cream), and more than anything, the indoor air conditioning!
NBC, Boston Globe
1 Australian Open: A summer party, tickets are easier to get and cheaper, no rainouts because of two retractable ceilings, the tournament is within walking distance of hotels.
2 U.S. Open:: Outside courts are terrific, a lot going on, food good if expensive, Armstrong is good for watching, but most of Ashe's seats are too far away.
3 Wimbledon: Too much rain, tickets difficult, but the queuing experience is fun, and you can get a seat if you arrive early enough; still the granddaddy.
4 French Open: Overcrowded, but Chatrier is fine for viewing.
The Toronto Globe and Mail
1 Australian Open: Three tram stops and three minutes from downtown, it's easily the most manageable and laid-back of the four Slams. Great facility, great tennis in the middle of summer vacation when it's winter back home. What more could you ask for?
2 Wimbledon: The Big W is irresistible because of the tradition; it's great to see Centre Court uncluttered by advertising. The facility has improved a lot in the last decade, compensating for the rain and a few too many club rules. Nearby Wimbledon Village gives it a unique, folksy feel.
3 French Open: It used to be my fave but the Court Central's upper decks on three sides created a more cramped, less happy feel since renovations started in '88. The site is too crowded now, but the gorgeous clay and French savoir faire still make it a very special place.
4 U.S. Open: It was a badly needed breath of fresh air in-when the site expanded and Ashe Stadium was built. Everything but the ridiculously big Ashe is better, but there's still hassles because the site is so far from Manhattan and not in a friendly location.
The Observer, EuroSport
1 Australian Open: Still the friendliest, even though it's not as friendly as it used to be (probably because of heightened security). It's got the greatest sense of adventure, perhaps because it's a target for lots of travelers who are on a gap year or having the trip of a lifetime, and as a North European, I really love being in a T-shirt and shorts in January!
2 Wimbledon: Has class, which is a difficult word to define, but when you're in the grounds, you sense this is run with behind-the-scenes discipline. It manages to give the impression of being the fuddy-duddy Slam, when really, it's incredibly well-organized. But they do slightly spoil the effect by a few too many rules (from picnic hampers to the number of bags you can bring in).
3 French Open: A nice tournament, and much better since they banned smoking from the buildings, but there isn't a single curved line in the architecture of the Philippe Chatrier Stadium, which always unsettles me a little. Paris in the springtime is overblown. The weather isn't great, the food isn't what it's cracked up to be, and the waiters specialize in surliness.
4 U.S. Open: Though better than it was in the pre-Arthur Ashe Stadium era, the U.S. Open is a commercial and social event first and a tennis tournament second. I sometimes get the impression watching a match that the players are like a string quartet in a Viennese cafe - they're there to provide gentle background entertainment while the real social and commercial business is carried on. Like many non-New Yorkers, I have a limited tolerance threshold in the city, and the USTA can never ever bring itself to admit that it got something wrong.
1 Wimbledon: The last oasis and spiritual home of tennis. The major all players yearn to win, whatever they may say to the contrary.
2 French Open: Redolent of the art deco era and stylish point construction on stamina-sapping clay courts.
3 Australian Open: A modern marvel enriched by characteristic Aussie humor and passion for sport.
4 U.S. Open: Revamped from its dowdy days and rarely lacking dramatic matches.
1 Australian Open: Best: The fine air, sun, and facilities and the tournament that everyone's talking about while you are there. Worst: The time needed for foreigners to get there, 28 hours from Europe, and tremendous jet lag.
2 French Open: Best: Plenty of colors, the clay, the sun; it's vintage Paris in the springtime. The players fight like gladiators. Worst: Kids day, because you are unable to walk around the courts, and if you are a Spanish fan, it's especially terrible because there are usually a lot of Spanish players left in the tournament.
3 Wimbledon: It's still the most important of the Slams, and you can feel its history on court and off. The facilities have improved greatly, but the constant rain and the awful commute back to central London are tiresome.
4 U.S. Open: It's different than the others because it's New York, the Big Apple, and the facilities have improved. But there's too much distance between the courts and downtown Manhattan.
Australian Tennis Magazine
1 Wimbledon: May not be the most convenient and comfortable of the Slams, but it remains supreme because of its ambience, its aura of mystique and rich tradition, the beauty of its grass courts on a warm, sunny day. Long rainy days can make Wimbledon a bore. Even then, though, many who spend a frustrating day there don't mind too much, such is the allure to newcomers. If I were a local, I'd get sick of the yearly struggle to obtain Centre Court tickets, the interminable queues, and the crush around the field courts, the exorbitant cost of sandwiches and strawberries, not to mention the continued lack of success of British players. Only those with a streak of masochism would keep paying good money to attend. But the British are forever ready to invoke the Dunkirk spirit; a little pain is part of the experience. Wimbledon has done a splendid job in developing the stadia and grounds in keeping with the game's English traditions. Its theme of 'tennis in a country garden' really works, and its recent various additions, such as the Millennium Building, have been made aesthetically. The new No. 1 Court looks modern, yet retains the character of the old Wimbledon. Quick-fire grass-court tennis doesn't appeal to everyone, but today's dwindling number of serve/volleyers don't hold an overwhelming advantage on grass any more. Modern rackets have boosted the counterpunchers, making a grass-court battle more of an intriguing spectacle. There's still no tennis drama like Wimbledon drama. Remember last year's shootout between Venus and Davenport and the '01 Ivanisevic-Rafter saga? And Wimbledon cares for the total game, fostering five-set men's doubles, and staging both men's and mixed doubles on Centre Court.
2 Australian Open: Rain, hail or blistering sunshine, ticket holders at Laver Arena can always be assured of a full day's program, thanks to the stadium's moveable roof. Other facilities are well-planned so that it's usually possible to find a comfortable seat. January is the mid-summer holiday season, and fans and officials are in a good mood. Many visitors say that what impresses them most is the friendliness of Melbournians. It also helps that Melbourne Park is on the fringe of the central business district and is thus the most accessible of all the Slam venues. Rebound Ace, Australia's rubberized cement court, is considered fair to both the offensive and defensive player. However, it seems to have favored baseliners such as Wilander, Lendl, Courier and Agassi. The more aggressive Sampras and Becker curbed their attacking instincts and resorted to more of an all-court game. Nighttime 'blockbusters' attracted capacity crowds and huge TV audiences. The last two men's finals, Hewitt v. Safin in '05 and Federer v. Baghdatis this year, took the Open to new heights. However, the risk of excessive heat in mid-January and doubts about the safety of Rebound Ace in such conditions are negative factors.
3 French Open: The prettiest setting of the Slam venues, but clay-court tennis can be awfully dreary in these days of incessant topspin rallies. Sampras couldn't win the French, nor could other attacking players such as Becker, Edberg and Rafter. How can you totally support a tournament that penalizes such attractive all-court stroke players? A five-set war of attrition between two Spaniards on clay on a warm afternoon is one of the best antidotes to insomnia. French fans are very enthusiastic, but they are among the worst in the world for bagging players who fall out of favor, be they French or foreigners. When I saw them whistle, screech and scream insults at Martina Hingis until she cracked and succumbed to Steffi Graf in the '99 final, I realized how Marie Antoinette never had a hope. The best thing is the beautiful design of Chatrier and the stylish Suzanne Lenglen.
4 U.S. Open: The gigantic Ashe Stadium looks quite nice but is simply too towering for such a game as tennis. Was it made so vast just to show off? The optimum crowd for a tennis match, if everyone is to see what's happening without binoculars or smelling salts to counter the altitude, is 15,000. My biggest beef with the running of the tournament has always been the bizarre scheduling. CBS has too much influence. Another big put-off is the distance of Flushing Meadows from Manhattan and the consequent worry about catching a train back late at night. Flushing Meadows has come a long way since its primitive days, but it is still a little too raw and raucous for many tastes. In behavior, the fans clinging like mountain goats to the upper slopes of Ashe Stadium are more reminiscent of the rambunctious Jimmy Connors than the gentlemanly Arthur.
1 Wimbledon: A beautiful place with special atmosphere and lots of space. But it's too expensive.
2 U.S. Open: Good courts (except Ashe) and excellent matches that are among the best of the year. It too is expensive and has a very bad center court, where the real fans are much too far from the court.
3 Australian Open: Very friendly atmosphere; great weather with a terrific center court. But the Vodaphone Arena is awful, and the outside courts are subpar.
4 French Open: Everything is nice, except that you can't see anything from any outside courts without queuing. You cannot be a roving eye of tennis, and that kills the show most days.
1 U.S. Open: This transplanted Connecticut Yankee could list dozens of reasons not to like New York (one being the uniquely incompetent drivers), but the tennis at Flushing Meadows Corona Park is not one of them. The tournament consistently produces the most compelling matches, the environment is always highly charged, and outside of the cavernous stadium, the outside courts are the best viewing in the business. The spacious, brick-hewn grounds are a pleasure to walk, and there's nothing like kicking back in the plaza watching an A-list player slug it out while some cool jazz hums in the background. And if you venture out of the grounds into the park on weekends, there's a festive, Latin atmosphere of food, drink, tunes, volleyball and of course, futbol. A medium-paced hard court is the fairest surface in the game, which is why nearly all the game's greats have won here.
1 TIED French Open: A tie with New York, not only because the tournament is played in the most attractive and compelling city of the four (see my "Why I love the French Open" piece), but because like the U.S. Open, play on the outside courts is riveting theater. All hardcore fans must journey at least once to the notorious Bullring (Court 1) where you are so close you can literally smell the action and are frequently forced to wipe the orange dust out of your eyes. Court 2 is a tantalizing treat, as is No. 10 and every obscure court behind the facility's terrific No. 2 stadium, Suzanne Lenglen. Negatives-amped alleyways, spotty weather and the U.S. men's lack of know-how on the surface.
3 Australian Open: So fan and tourist friendly, so intimate, such a joy to walk around in the Aussie summer and see and hear fans having the times of their lives. Tennis talks Down Under, and fans listen and talk back. But why oh why can't they move the tournament back a few weeks (before summer ends) so it aligns more closely with the other Slams?
4 Wimbledon: There is much to love about the sport's great ancestor, especially Centre Court, still the game's best. But unless you are a lover of monarchy and all the social mores that go along with it (e.g., bending your knees in front of dukes of minor houses), you might experience the same feeling I occasionally get when I pass the Member's Enclosure, which is hearing a loud, ghostly voice scream, "Off with his head!" Democracy is still dead at Wimbles.