Why you should care
If the Russian-American Wimbledon darling is the tournament’s runner-up, she’ll achieve an extremely rare tennis feat.
Part of SportsSpeak Explained, an occasional series on unusual sports terms we need to know for the games we play — and watch.
If Maria Sharapova can finish as the runner-up at the 2018 Women’s U.S. Open singles championship, earning that elusive silver plate, she will have completed her eight-piece “dinner set” — a rare career achievement.
Tell your taste buds to stand down — this distinction has nothing to do with eating. Rather, it’s an unofficial accolade in tennis describing eight trophies with something very quirky in common.
Dinner set: The set of trophies — cups and plates/dishes — players earn by winning and finishing as a runner-up at all four majors.
Whether it’s the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, tennis’ Grand Slam tournaments each possess a distinct trophy for the male and female winners and runners-up. Each trophy takes the form of a cup or plate/dish — thus, when a player collects all eight, he or she is said to have a full dinner set. (At this table, apparently, we’re not using utensils.)
With its multiple formats and tournaments, tennis is a sport that lends itself to tracking different permutations of wins. A dinner set is just one combination of wins noted by tennis fans. Consider the boxed set: winning a singles, doubles and mixed doubles title at each of the four majors. Or the triple crown, which has nothing to do with horses, but instead denotes earning singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles at the same major in one year.
Much like the lanterne rouge in the Tour de France, however, the dinner set is far from an official accolade. In fact, many in the tennis community have never even heard the term.
“I don’t think anybody even thinks about the dinner set,” says John Embree, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Professional Tennis Association. “Maybe I’m naive, but I’ve been in the tennis industry my whole life. Nobody talks about it.”
Embree spent seven years on the tour, but even he admits he was never knocking on the door of a Grand Slam tourney win. “I’ve never been a player at that magnitude; maybe those players talk about it amongst themselves,” he offers.
Not Katrina Adams, former Women’s Tennis Association pro and current president and CEO of the United States Tennis Association, who says she isn’t familiar with the term either.
How about Sharapova? The Russian phenom collected her most recent Grand Slam victory in 2014, when she defeated Simona Halep in a three-set, three-hour final. She’s got seven pieces of crockery in her set — the one she’s missing is the silver plate for the U.S. Open runner-up, a tournament she won in 2006.
Sharapova could not be reached for comment on whether she knows or even cares that she could gain entry to an extremely exclusive group. Indeed, the reason “dinner set” may be an extremely niche term in the world of tennis is due to the rarity of the accomplishment. Only five players have accomplished it in the post-1968 Open era: Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Chris Evert, Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Rafael Nadal could one day join the illustrious group with a runner-up finish in the French Open, while Novak Djokovic only needs the silver plate in the Australian Open.
Some of the all-time greats just barely missed out. A failure to ever win Wimbledon prevented Belgian powerhouse Justine Henin from completing her dinner set. Billie Jean King needed a runner-up finish at the French Open to earn her eighth piece of crockery.
“My sense is that [the players] are all certainly very aware of having all four Grand Slams,” says David Haggerty, president of the International Tennis Federation. “But as far as having those wins and the runner-up [for the dinner set], I think some of them may just consider the first more important than the second, and really, it may be quite painful, considering they didn’t get the win.”
Perhaps the dinner set means more to journalists and historians than it does to the players themselves. But even if the athletes don’t care to dwell on their runner-up finishes, the dinner set still belongs in rarefied air most tennis pros will never reach.