Top 10 Greatest Women's Tennis Players of All Time

International Tennis Hall of Fame: Newport, RI

The International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum
The International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum | Source

Selecting the top ten of anything can be a difficult and subjective task. As difficult as it was to choose the top ten all-time greatest male tennis players, the women's top ten proved no easier.

There have been so many great women players over the last 50 years, and this doesn't even take into consideration the great players from the early 20th century. Changes in fitness regimes, nutrition, and racket technology over the years have only served to complicate an already difficult task.

After pouring through countless statistical records and my own personal memory banks, I have come up with a list of the best female tennis players of all time. Here they are.

10. Justine Henin

Justin Henin
Justin Henin | Source
  • Born: June 1, 1982
    Liege, Belgium
  • Resides: Brussels, Belgium
  • Turned pro: 1999
  • Retired: 2008, 2011
  • Career prize money: $20,863,335
  • 50 career titles
  • 7 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 Australian, 4 French, 2 US Open

Known for her mental and physical toughness, Justine Henin was one of the most athletic women to ever play the game. Despite her small stature, she packed a powerful punch and played a complete game that included a powerful serve and a forehand shot that she hit with both power and accuracy. Known as one of the best volleyers in the game, Henin was as comfortable at the net as from the baseline.

In 2003, she achieved the number one ranking in the world, having won both the French Open and the US Open. In 2004, Henin won the Gold Medal at the Athens Olympics to go along with her first Australian Open title. She won seven Grand Slam titles in her career but retired abruptly in 2008 citing burnout from over twenty years of competitive tennis. A brief comeback in 2010 was short lived, and she retired for good in early 2011.

9. Venus Williams

Venus Williams
Venus Williams | Source
  • Born: June 17, 1980
    Lynwood, California
  • Resides: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
  • Turned pro: 1994
  • Career prize money: $32,638,857
  • 49 career titles
  • 7 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 5 Wimbledon, 2 US Open
  • Current active player

If not for having to compete against her sister, Serena, Venus Williams may very well have had many more Grand Slam titles to her name. The sisters have gone head-to-head in a Grand Slam final eight times with Serena winning six of those matches.

While Venus’s career has been fraught with injuries, there is no doubt that in the early 2000s she was the woman to beat on tour. Between 2000 and 2001, Venus captured four of her seven Grand Slam victories. In 2002, she finally attained the number one ranking in the world, a spot she would capture on three separate occasions. Wimbledon has been Venus’s favorite court as she has won five titles there, the last coming in 2008.

Venus is currently attempting a comeback on tour after suffering through two years of knee and hip problems. She started the 2014 season ranked number 47 in the world but climbed back into the top twenty for the first time since 2010 and finished 2014 ranked number 18 in the world.

8. Evonne Goolagong

Evonne Goolagong
Evonne Goolagong | Source
  • Born: July 31, 1951
    Griffith, New South Wales, Australia
  • Resides: Noosa Heads, Queensland, Australia
  • Turned pro: 1968
  • Retired: 1983
  • Career prize money: $1,399,431
  • 68 career titles
  • 7 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 4 Australian, 1 French, 2 Wimbledon
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1988

Often overlooked because she played during the Chris Everett and Martina Navratilova era, Goolagong was the epitome of grace and beauty on the court. Despite playing during one of the most competitive periods in women’s tennis, Goolagong was still able to win seven Grand Slam titles and in 1976 was ranked number one in the world.

She has the distinction of being the only mother since before World War I to have won Wimbledon, having won the title in 1980 after giving birth to her daughter in 1977.

The only Grand Slam title to elude her was the US Open, where she reached the finals in four consecutive years, 1973-1976.

7. Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King | Source
  • Born: November 22, 1943
    Long Beach, California
  • Resides: Chicago and New York
  • Turned pro: 1968
  • Retired: 1983
  • Career prize money: $1,966,487
  • 129 career titles
  • 12 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 Australian, 1 French, 6 Wimbledon, 4 US Open
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1987

Who can forget the weird and wacky battle of the sexes between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973? Not only did King dispose of Mr. Riggs in short order but she also dominated women’s tennis from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.

Her hard-charging aggressive style of play was in sharp contrast to the stately ground game of Chris Evert who came along in 1972 to challenge King as the queen of women’s tennis. Nevertheless, King owned Wimbledon from 1966 to 1975, when she won the title six times.

6. Monica Seles

Monica Seles
Monica Seles | Source
  • Born: December 2, 1973
    Novi Sad, SR Serbia, SFR Yugoslavia
  • Resides: Sarasota, Florida
  • Turned pro: 1989
  • Retired: 2008
  • Career prize money: $14,891,762
  • 53 career titles
  • 9 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 4 Australian, 3 French, 2 US Open
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2009

Were it not for the unfortunate on-court attack and stabbing by a deranged fan in 1993, Monica Seles would certainly have gone on to win more Grand Slam titles. Her epic battles with Steffi Graf were classics, and we the fans were deprived of some great matches because of one fan's sick obsession.

While Monica did return to tennis two years after the incident, she was never quite the same. To her credit, she did go on to win the 1996 Australian Open, her only post-attack Grand Slam victory. Monica continued to play until 2003 and officially retired in 2008.

There is no doubt that Monica Seles was the most dominant player from 1990 to 1992. During this time, she won seven of her nine Grand Slam Titles and in 1991 was the top-ranked woman in the world.

5. Margaret Court

Margaret Court
Margaret Court | Source
  • Born: July 16, 1942
    Albury, New South Wales, Australia
  • Resides: Perth, Western Australia
  • Turned pro: 1960
  • Retired: 1977
  • Career prize money approximately: $500,000
  • 192 career titles
  • 24 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 11 Australian, 5 French, 3 Wimbledon, 5 US Open
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1979

There are many experts out there who feel that Margaret Court is the best player of all time. With a record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, it’s hard to argue. Add in her 19 doubles and 19 mixed doubles titles and Court has a record 62 Major titles to her credit.

She was the first woman in the open era to win the singles Grand Slam in 1970, and she is the only women to have won a Grand Slam in mixed doubles, which she did twice. Undoubtedly the best player in the 1960s to early 1970s, Court was the first woman to incorporate weights and fitness training into her routine. The result was a long and injury-free career.

4. Chris Evert

Chris Evert
Chris Evert | Source
  • Born: December 21, 1954
    Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • Resides: Boca Raton, Florida
  • Turned pro: 1972
  • Retired: 1989
  • Career prize money: $8,895,195
  • 157 career titles
  • 18 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 Australian, 7 French, 3 Wimbledon, 6 US Open
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 1995

Was there ever a player more graceful on the court than Chris Evert? She was a machine from the baseline, and with that two-handed backhand shot, she dominated women’s tennis from the mid-1970s into the early 1980s. Evert still holds the record for reaching the most Grand Slam singles finals with 34, and she managed to win 18 of them including every major at least twice. When Martina Navratilova came along in the late 1970s, it provided fans with a great on-court rivalry. Evert was the year-ending number one player in the world for seven years and had a career winning percentage in singles matches of over 90 percent.

3. Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova
Martina Navratilova | Source
  • Born: October 18, 1956
    Prague, Czechoslovakia
  • Resides: Sarasota, Florida
  • Turned pro: 1975
  • Retired: 1994
  • Career prize money: $21,626,089
  • 167 career titles
  • 18 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 3 Australian, 2 French, 9 Wimbledon, 4 US Open
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2000

One of the toughest competitors to ever grace the court, Martina Navratilova dominated women’s tennis from the late 1970s through a good portion of the 1980s. Known for her extreme physical conditioning, Martina brought the big serve and volley back to the women’s game.

She holds the open era record for career titles with 167 and has 59 total Grand Slam titles including singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. Martina also holds the record for career Wimbledon titles with an amazing nine championships. She will be remembered as one of the greatest doubles players ever, having won 31 grand Slam Doubles titles and 10 Grand Slam Mixed Doubles titles.

2. Serena Williams

Serena Williams
Serena Williams | Source
  • Born: September 26, 1981
    Saginaw, Michigan
  • Resides: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
  • Turned pro: 1995
  • Career prize money: $77,564,981
  • 71 career titles
  • 22 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 6 Australian, 3 French, 7 Wimbledon, 6 US Open
  • Current active player

One of the strongest and most powerful women to ever play the game, Serena Williams has certainly left her mark on tennis. Together, Serena and her sister, Venus, have been a dominant force in women’s tennis since the late 1990s. Together, they have won 13 Grand Slam Doubles titles. With 22 Grand Slam Singles titles, Serena gets the edge over her sister.

At the age of 33, Serena regained the number one ranking in the world, a distinction that she first achieved back in 2002. Serena’s game has certainly withstood the test of time and competition. Her Grand Slam titles have come over a 17-year period starting in 1999, with her latest victory coming at the 2016 Wimbledon Championship.

With her play over the last three years and her 2016 Wimbledon title, the 34 year old Serena appears to be getting better with age. I have elevated her all-time ranking to the number two spot. If she's able to keep her game at this high level, there is certainly the opportunity to overtake Steffi Graf for the number one spot.

1. Steffi Graf

Steffi Graf
Steffi Graf | Source
  • Born: June 14, 1969
    Mannheim, Baden-Wurttemberg, West Germany
  • Resides: Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Turned pro: 1982
  • Retired: 1999
  • Career prize money: $21,891,306
  • 107 career titles
  • 22 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 4 Australian, 6 French, 7 Wimbledon, 5 US Open
  • Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame: 2004

While some may argue that the top spot belongs to Martina Navratilova or Serena Williams, for me it goes to Steffi Graff. Able to win on all surfaces, Graff was a model of consistency throughout her 17-year career. Her record 377 weeks ranked as number one in the world is a record for any player, male or female. In 1988, Graff became the first player to achieve what is regarded as the calendar year Golden Slam by winning all four majors plus the Olympic Gold Medal in the same year, a remarkable feat.

From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, there was no one better, and when she retired in 1999, she was still ranked number three in the world. For me, the choice is a clear one: Steffi Graf is the best women’s tennis player of all-time.

Who do you think is the greatest women's tennis player of all-time?

  • Venus Williams
  • Justine Henin
  • Evonne Goolagong
  • Monica Seles
  • Billie Jean King
  • Serena Williams
  • Margaret Court
  • Chris Evert
  • Martina Navratilova
  • Steffi Graf
See results without voting

© 2013 Bill De Giulio

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Comments 106 comments

NOEL 4 weeks ago

Who is better or best ?

sometimes we have to see things in another angle, what makes you great is when you don´t have nothing and have to be among the best or when you born with golden racket and snikkers you reason it well before you vote.

Buck 6 weeks ago

I am assuming this ranking is exclusive to singles play. If it includes both singles and doubles, then no one comes close to Martina Navratilova.

Buck 6 weeks ago

I have a hard time calling Graf the "all time best" mainly because of the Monica Seles stabbing. Seles came onto the scene as Graf's main rival and quickly overtook her for world #1 in 1991, then went on to win 7 out of 8 grand slams from 1991-1993. Graf fans call this period of time a "slump." But amazingly, right after Seles was stabbed in 1993, Graf came out of her "slump." Seles was just entering her prime and would have no doubt taken a number of those major trophies away from Graf if she had not been attacked. When Seles finally did come back, she was never the same. And there were no other great players in their prime during Graf's era. An aging Navratilova was 50-50 with Graf in head to head matches, and probably would have dominated her in her prime. And I think Serena would have dominated Graf as well.

Mirza 6 weeks ago

Monica Seles is and the by far Best Ever,

Chu 6 weeks ago

Just one up for Serena, she's still playing, but she plays a lot less matchs than other top 10 listed here.

She's less efective than other players and there's the controversy about the matches between her and her sister been arranged by their father....

Also Henin retiring been N°1 it's equivalent to Seles been cut in her top.

I still thing Graff was a far more dominant player.

JayT 7 weeks ago

Graff was an absolute great player but, in my opinion, she benefited from Seles being stabbed and leaving tennis for a long time. I don't feel she would have won 22 titles had Seles not left the game. Navratalova, Williams, and Graff were beasts in their prime though.

Jane Smith 2 months ago

Margaret Court is the greatest tennis player of all time. Hands down. No questions asked.

Unfortunately her achievements are diminished by her strongly held opinions that contradict those of many tennis players, those in tennis and sports media and hopefully the general public at large.

emery yawn 2 months ago

Monica Seles was the the attraction that got me interested in tennis just like Tiger Woods was the attraction that got me into watching golf. Steffi Graf should have an asterisk next to her name which should lead to a notation letting posterity know that her countryman (probably a neo-nazi) had stabbed her only more dominant competition, Seles, in the back. Also noted should be that the German state never prosecuted the man and explained that they did not have a law on the books againsttheir citizens stabbing non-citizens in the back. Yes you can see that I am still furious about the injury to my favorite. I did notwatch tennis again until the emergence of Venus Williams. It should be obvious that I feel that the greatest female singles player of all is Serena Williams! Although I am male, I seldom watch male tennis.

Warn 3 months ago

I think Serena deserves way more credit than Graff. Yes Graff was good but don't forget she barely won when she got real competition for only a couple of years from Seles. Serena withstood the fury of her sister venus and already passed Margeret if venus wasn't there. Then later she had to deal with hennin and now Sharapova too, all three I'd say are easily better than the players in Grafs age apart from Seles. Just look at Serena, she is 34 and still dominating! there is not a single tennis player (even Federer) that can equal that.

Graf has dominated for about 10 years, Serena for atleast 15 (if you take away her absent years). Even if I would calculate in If's Serena would outweigh Seles.

Best should always be placed in the context the players played in.

Ady 3 months ago

I hav to go for martina as when she was at the height of her career she had another great in Chris evert when steffi had a challenger in Monica Seles from 1990-1993 Australian open Seles won 8 grand slams and steffi only 2.

In anyone's mind Monday would have won more than nine grand slams so surely Graf wouldn't have ended up with 22 this is not biased but the facts speak for themselves Monica was world number 1 just beat Graf in the Australian open final as well.

Rico 3 months ago

titles are one thing, but Serena is physically superior than any other woman player. head to head, its doubtful that any other female player is or was better than her

Jabu 3 months ago

Finally #22!!!! It was touch and go there for a while, since the USO I mean. Congratulations to SW and now that the Big hurdle is history the question of how far can she go with Grand Slams is back into tennis conversations. What is clearly not possible anymore is her achieving all 4 GS in one calendar yr. Last yr was her best yet last chance at this very elusive achievement. I think this challenge has become even more difficult lately because of media pressure placed on the player trying for it. Djokovic is proof of how heavy this pressure has become over the yrs. I must admit personally I still don't get the extra significance of this achievement that sets it apart compared to winning 4 in a row irrespective of where the series starts!!! For me 4 in a row is no different from any other 4 in a row. Actually, for a player to time their peak such that it accommodates for a Calendar Grand Slam might require that they sacrifice the USO in order to start the run at the right time in Australia. This clearly makes zero sense. So a dose of luck more than just maintaining form over 4 consecutive GS is required for this to happen, which goes to prove my point of how I don't get it's extra importance. In fact a funny scenario will one day occur where some poor player wins 5 in a row, say starting with Wimbledon & ending the run with a successful defense the following yr, yet no 4 in one calendar yr!!!! Throw the Olympic Gold into the mix, yet no 4 in one calendar yr? How is this MORE IMPORTANT again?!!!!

Raj 3 months ago

Serena Williams is the best as Steffi Graph clearly would not have won as many titles if Monica Seles was not stabbed in the back. Serena Williams had no such advantages

Mark 3 months ago

All you people saying Henin was the better player need to do your stats. In their head to head match-ups, Serena was leading by 2 wins ( 8-6), how is it possible then that Henin is a better player? In addition, if Henin was that good, why isn't she still in the game of tennis? Give credit where credit is due. Serena is the greatest female tennis player ever.

Hemanth 3 months ago

I'm a huge fan of Graf's beautiful tennis...Considering skill only, Serena the clear no.1. But in the case of atrue champion, genius and achievements are equally important. So the GOAT is Navratilova! Serena may surpass Graf , but no one can catch Martina.. 167 singles 177 doubles titles..!!! She is miles ahead......

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lankia 8 months ago from Mikkeli, Fin

How about Sharapova? Even though she has been quite awful lately, I think she deserves a bit more appreciation. After all, she has managed to get into the position of best earning female athlete..

Matt 9 months ago

Seles at her best was unbeatable.

If your talking about longevity or all time success you would have to say graff or a Williams it's hard to argue with the stats

CHRIS 9 months ago

Its got to be Margaret Court 63 Grand Slam titles.

bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 11 months ago from Massachusetts Author

Hi again Drew. Couldn't agree more about the "what ifs" and "what could have beens". It makes for great discussion but I think a players entire body of work certainly has to be considered. When Serena steps off the court for the last time I think many will consider her the best ever. We'll see?

I have had a much more difficult time ranking the women than the men for some reason. I seem partial to the 1970s era players, maybe because this was my era, but certainly the players of the 1990's to the present are much better conditioned and much better overall athletes. Like the men I'll take a look at the rankings after the 2016 Australian Open. Thanks again, always nice to see well written and thoughtful comments.

Drew 11 months ago

Once again, a very well-researched and well-presented article. I find myself having difficulty with these GOAT rankings because of incidents like that of Monica Seles' stabbing, Maureen Connolly's horse-back riding injury, Bjorn Borg's pre-mature retirement, Rod Laver's six years on the "pro" tour, Marcel Rios' walkabout/early loss of interest, Miroslav Mecir's car accident, the mental weakness and/or burnout factor with regards to Bill Tilden, Jack Kramer, Illie Nastase, Evonne Goolagong, Hana Mandlikova, Michael Stich, Marcel Rios, Marat Safin, and even Mats Wilander and John McEnroe--as well as many many other talented athletes--we might be talking about a whole different list of players.

Hypotheticals like, "On any given day..." "on their best day..." and "on their worst day..." are just as interesting to me as a look at entire career records and statistics.

Safin, Del Potro, Gonzales, Kramer, Lendl, Laver, Seles, and Serena are, to my mind, the most "dangerous" adversaries to any and all of the GOATs. At least, of the players I have seen and read about.

That being said, I think Monica Seles is the greatest female tennis player to play the game. She was so intense, so laser- and mono-focused, so fearless, so scrappy and intimidating; I think she would have dominated the women's tour in any and every era. But then, who knows what Maureen Connolly could have/would have achieved...

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