Women’s tennis has gone a long way. But before we got to where we are right now, we saw many all-time greats pave the way for the likes of Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Ashley Barty and Karolina Pliskova.
Let’s take a look at the greatest female tennis players in the Open Era:
10. Martina Hingis
Her parents were tennis players so they named her after Martina Navratilova. She would live up to her name as she has become one of the all-time greats, along with her namesake. Martin Hingis is the youngest grand slam champion of all-time. She achieved the feat when she paired with Helena Sukova to win the 1996 Wimbledon women’s doubles title at the age of 15 years and 9 months. Hingis would rise to the top of the rankings and her 209 weeks as world #1 ranks next only to Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, and Chris Evert. Hingis won five grand slam titles and had she won the 1997 or 1999 French Open titles, she would have achieved the career grand slam. She also has 13 grand slam women’s doubles titles and 7 grand slam mixed doubles titles. In all, Hingis won 24 major tennis titles and was a force not just in singles play but in doubles and mixed doubles as well.
9. Venus Williams
Venus Williams rose to prominence after finishing as runner-up to Martina Hingis at the 1997 U.S. Open. She is the first African-American tennis player in the Open Era and second all-time since Althea Gibson to be ranked as the #1 female tennis player in the world, having done so on three instances for a total of 11 weeks. Although she didn’t spend much time at the top, it was Venus who ushered a new era of power and athleticism in women’s tennis. Venus has won a total of seven grand slam titles which is 8th most all-time in the Open Era and 12th on the all-time list. Only her sister Serena has more grand slam titles than Venus among the current batch of female tennis players. Venus and Serena are unbeaten as a doubles team and together they won a total of 14 grand slam doubles titles. She is a four-time Olympic gold medalist win one singles and three doubles Olympic titles. Her 49 total singles titles rank only second to Serena among active players on the WTA tour.
Justin Henin literally put Belgium on the map of tennis, by reaching the top of the rankings for a total of 117 weeks and by leading her country to the 2001 Fed Cup title. She was an outstanding all-around player and was popular for using a one-handed backhand shot. Henin won a total of seven Grand Slam titles, including four at Roland Garros. She won the French Open in 2003, 2005 2006, and 2007. At the 2006 Australian Open, she became the first player in the Open Era to retire from a Finals match due to injury. Henin won a total of 43 career singles titles and was the 2004 Olympic gold medalist in women’s singles. She is the first woman from Belgium to be inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Henin retired in 2011 due to a chronic elbow injury Time Magazine named her among the “30 Legends of Women’s Tennis: Past, Present, and Future” by Time.
7. Monica Seles
Monica Seles won the French Open title in 1990, becoming the youngest player to win the tournament at the age of 16. She would go on to win a total of 8 Grand Slam titles before the age of 20 and ended the years 1991 and 1992 as world #1. However, a stabbing incident in 1993 forced her off the courts for two years. She would make a comeback and win her 9th and final grand slam title, but Seles never recovered her form on a consistent basis after the incident. He nine grand slam titles puts her 8th on the all-time list and her 53 WTA titles are currently ranked 8th overall. At the 200 Olympics, she won the bronze medal and after getting her U.S. citizenship in 1994, she helped the United States win the Fed Cup in 1996, 1999 and 2000. Seles last played at the 2003 French Open but did not announce her official retirement until 2008. Had she not miss two years due to the stabbing incident, Seles would have been without a doubt among the Top 5 greatest female tennis players in the Open Era.
6. Margaret Smith Court
Margaret Smith Court is the first female tennis player in the open era to accomplish the grand slam by winning all four major tournaments in 1970. Her 24 singles grand slam titles (11 in the Open Era) is the most by any player in history and it’s a record that still stands to this day. Aside from her singles titles, Smith also had a total of 19 women’s doubles titles and 21 mixed doubles titles, giving her a record 64 major titles overall. Smith is also the only female tennis player to accomplish the mixed doubles grand slam and she did it twice. Her all surfaces record of 91.7% is the highest of all-time. Her 11 Australian Open titles stood as the record for most wins in one grand slam tournament before Rafael Nadal’s 2019 triumph at the 2019 French Open broke the record. Smith had a record of 210-23 in Grand Slam tournaments and she only lost five times in a Grand Slam final. She also holds the distinction of being the first female player to win a grand slam in the Open Era.
5. Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King scored a victory for women when at the age of 29, she defeated Bobby Riggs in the first ever battle of the Sexes. She also founded the WTA in 1973 and has been a mentor to Venus and Serena Williams during the early part of the Williams’ sisters careers. On the court, she was what her family name reads-king. She won a total of 39 grand slam titles: 12 in singles, 16 in doubles and 11 in mixed doubles. King also won the singles title at the first ever WTA Tour Championships. As a member of the United States team, she helped them win a total of seven Fed Cups and nine Wightman Cups. Beyond the court, her value is immeasurable. King was an advocate of equality and social justice. The USTA National Tennis Center was renamed as the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2006 in her honor. To this date, she remains one of the most influential people in women’s tennis.
4. Serena Williams
The book on Serena Williams isn’t done yet. The younger sister of Venus is the more accomplished of the Williams’ sisters. Serena has won a total of 39 grand slam titles, third on the all-time list and 2nd in the Open Era. Her 23 grand slam singles are just one off the record of Margaret Smith Court and are the most by any player in the Open Era. She has held all four grand slam titles simultaneously twice during his career, matching the feats of Rod Laver and Steffi Graf. Her six Australian Open titles are also the most in the Open Era and she is tied with Chris Evert for most wins at the U.S. Open with six. She has four Olympic gold medals, winning in women’s doubles thrice (2000, 2008 and 2012 ) and the singles Olympic event once in 2012. Her 337 singles matches won in major tournaments are an all-time record as well. Serena has been world #1 in a total of 8 occasions between 2002 and 2017. Her 319-week reign as was world #1 puts her in third place behind Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.
America’s tennis sweetheart was one of the first sex symbols of the WTA. But she wasn’t just tennis’ poster girl. Chris Evert was one of the sport’s fiercest competitors. In fact, she was one of the most mentally tough players during her time that she earned the nickname “Ice Queen”. Evert reigned as world #1 for 260 weeks, including 113 consecutive weeks. That’s the third longest reign after Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova. Evert won a total of 18 grand slam titles, tied with Martina Navratilova. Evert and Navratilova created the sport’s top women’s rivalry as the pair met a total of 80 times. Navratilova won their head to head matchup 43-37, including a 10-4 advantage in grand slam tournaments. Despite that, she is one of the greatest ever. Evert won a record seven French Open titles and her six U.S. Open titles are tied with Serena Williams for most all-time.
2. Martina Navratilova
Martina Navratilova was one of the first true serve and volley players in tennis. She is the only player to have ranked #1 in both singles and doubles for at least 200 weeks. She was world #1 in singles competition for a total of 332 weeks, second longest behind Steffi Graf and a record 237 weeks in doubles play. She ended seven years as world number one, including a record five straight years. Navratilova won a total of 18 grand slam singles titles, a record 31 majors doubles titles and 10 major mixed doubles titles. From Wimbledon in 1983 through the U.S. Open in 1984, Navratilova won six straight grand slam titles. If we list down all her records, we could go on and on because she has too many to count. But if there was ever a footnote in her legendary career, it would be that she never achieved a grand slam.
1. Steffi Graf
Steffi Graf is the greatest tennis player of all-time, bar none. She is the only player in tennis history to complete the Golden Slam. Graf won all four grand slam tournaments in 1988 as well as the Olympic gold medal in South Korea. She is also the only player to have won each grand slam at least four times. In total, Graf won 22 grand slam singles titles, third-most all-time behind Margaret Smith Court’s 24 and Serena Williams’ 23. Her 107 total WTA titles won ranks third behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Graf reigned as world #1 for a total of 377 weeks, including 186 consecutive weeks. Those are the longest any tennis player, male or female, has ever reigned on top of the world rankings. Graf was the year-end number one in a record eight years. In her last Grand Slam win at the 1999 French Open, Graf defeated the Top 3 ranked players in the world in a single tournament. No one has ever done that before. The only criticism for Graf, if any, is the fact that her top rival Monica Seles was out for two years after a stabbing incident. Otherwise, there is no doubt that Steffi Graf is the greatest tennis player in the Open Era.