They were four icons that stood out from all the others and commanded unparalleled attention, to the point where followers joyfully memorized their grand moments to lengths far greater than all others. Each of the four was distinct, but all shared common ground as a gold standard that defined enduring excellence. Each went through changes, but at heart all remained true to their roots and were beacons by which all performance was measured. Each one of them was highly coveted, a treasured possession regarded with respect and even awe.
We're talking about the Beatles. Or are we talking about the four major titles that compose tennis's Grand Slam?
If indeed the majors are the Beatles of tennis, how best to regard each?
The year's first major is surely Ringo -- in many ways the most lovable and unquestionably the most accessible, friendly and fun, but also, yes, the low man on the totem pole, the one least likely to contribute a plethora of enduring lyrics. Even great Australians did not grow up pretending they were playing the Australian Open. They were setting their sights on Wimbledon.
The Beatles experimented with other drummers before making Ringo a tenured member, and as recently as the mid-'80s, the ITF was threatening to toss the Australian out of the band of majors. As Ringo sang years later, Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues / And you know it don't come easy / You don't have to shout or leap about / You can even play them easy. Roger Federer once dubbed the Australian Open "The Happy Slam." Is any of the Fab Four happier than Ringo?
As we leave winter behind and enter the warmth of a Paris spring and the sizzling heat of the clay-court season, these lyrics come to mind: Here comes the sun, or better yet, I look at the floor, and I see it needs sweeping.
Yes, Roland Garros is the George Harrison of tennis's Fab Four. As Harrison was to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Roland Garros is a touch less significant than Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. But in some ways, Roland Garros, like Harrison, is exotic, spiritual and underrated, a place of a many different languages than all the others, where the music blends new instruments, all things must pass and players struggle for hours on end, sliding on the clay, as Harrison implied in his beguiling solo in "Within You Without You": And the time will come when you see we're all one / And life flows on within you and without you. No wonder Roland Garros and Harrison each built cult followings.
As was the case with Harrison, Roland Garros is exceptionally earthbound, the rich, red clay creating a compelling allure of dirt and mysticism. Something in the way she moves, attracts me like no other lover. If you're one of the American men who've been consistently stymied at Roland Garros -- only one's gone as far as the round of 16 in the last six years -- the more fitting lyrics might come from one of Harrison's more bizarre solo efforts: "I welcome you to Crackerbox Palace / was not expecting you."
Contemplating Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, here are the questions: Given Wimbledon's significance as the sport's most important tournament, do fans of John Lennon automatically associate this event with the martyred Beatle? Or is the overt commercialism a match for the financial juggernaut McCartney presides over?
The All England Club and the upbeat, smiling McCartney go together like strawberries and cream, tea and crumpets, Sgt. Pepper and all the other ex-military brass who preside over the well-ordered Club. They've been going in and out of style / But they're guaranteed to raise a smile / So may I introduce you to / the act you've known for all these years.
The occasional visits of such music stars as Sir Cliff Richard, Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones and that enticing chanteuse-actress Grace Jones add hints of pop color to the event -- but again, in the same unthreatening manner that has long made McCartney the cute, impish Beatle, these guests are kindly window dressing more than insurrectionists. Send me a postcard / drop me a line / stating point of view.
This affinity between McCartney and Wimbledon becomes even more vivid during rain delays, when the tournament's old-school, music-hall qualities surface to the good-natured bonhomie with which the locals endure bad weather, long lines (whoops, "queues") and indigenous cuisine that often leaves one's stomach pondering one of McCartney's most memorable melancholy classics: Yesterday / all my troubles seemed so far away / now it looks as though they're here to stay.
This year, of course, rain will be ameliorated -- at least to those assigned to play on Centre Court -- by the presence of Wimbledon's new roof, one of many the event's breakthrough but smoothly integrated upgrades that would no doubt earn Paul's applause: I've got to admit it's getting better / A little better all the time.
Which leaves us with John Lennon. He and Yoko Ono permanently relocated to New York City in 1971. A year later, he came out with an album titled "Sometime in New York City." And of course, he would spend the rest of his life in New York before his tragic death just outside his Manhattan apartment building in December 1980.
As all Beatlemaniacs know, Lennon represents the band's darker, brooding, more serious side -- like the U.S. Open, a grittier, far less regal event than Wimbledon. While Wimbledon's grass meshes nicely with McCartney's forward-moving sensibility, Lennon is aware that over the course of a long match on a hard court, a player faces many doubts and shifts, perhaps taking comfort in the lyrics of "Help": And now my life has changed in oh so many ways / My independence seems to vanish in the haze / But every now and then I feel so insecure.
Leave it to Paul to celebrate Wimbledon's venerable qualities -- and John to take a shot at the kind of commerce that pervades the U.S. Open. Corporation T-shirts, stupid bloody Tuesday.
And while the celebs who come to Wimbledon personify McCartney's light-hearted sangfroid, those who come to New York convey a different kind of edge, less the affability of a day at the All England Club and the scratch, claw and revel manner of such uncouth Americans as Donald Trump -- the kind of folks to whom Lennon would sneer, How does it feel to be / one of the beautiful people? / Now that you know who you are / What do you want to be?
Yes, Wimbledon and Paul endure. But there is also a sense that a player has shown a distinctive brand of moxie when triumphing in New York City, a grubby, well-earned struggle where the tennis goes long into the evening. It's been a hard day's night / And I've been working like a dog.
View the majors like a Beatlemaniac, and you'll never see tennis quite the same way again. Yeah, you got that something / I think you'll understand.
Joel Drucker is based in Oakland, Calif., and writes for Tennis Magazine and Tennis Channel.