Top 10 Greatest Women's Tennis Players of All Time
International Tennis Hall of Fame: Newport, RI
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
- Born: June 1, 1982
- 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
- Born: June 17, 1980
- Resides: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
- Turned pro: 1994
- Career prize money: $40,585,544
- 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 nine times with Serena winning seven 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 back to playing at a high level after suffering through years of knee and hip problems. She started the 2014 season ranked number 47 in the world, but has climbed back into the top ten, and is currently ranked number 5 in the world following her run to the 2017 Australian Open and Wimbledon final. A win at either of those Grand Slam events would have made for a fitting cap to a long and very successful career.
8. Evonne Goolagong
- 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
- 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
- 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. Chris Evert
- 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.
4. Margaret Court
- 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 one of only two women (Daniela Hantuchova being the other) 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.
3. Martina Navratilova
- Born: October 18, 1956
- 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. Steffi Graf
- 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
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 than Graf, and when she retired in 1999, she was still ranked number three in the world. Were it not for the long and storied career of Serena Williams the case would be made for Graf as the greatest of all-time. While many will continue to debate Steffi versus Serena as the greatest female player of all-time they were both incredible players who dominated their era and advanced women's tennis.
1. Serena Williams
- Born: September 26, 1981
- Resides: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
- Turned pro: 1995
- Career prize money: $86,360,661
- 72 career titles
- 23 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 7 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 14 Grand Slam Doubles titles. With 23 Grand Slam Singles titles including the 2017 Australian Open, Serena now owns the open era record for Grand Slam singles titles by a tennis player, male or female.
Serena’s game has certainly withstood the test of time and competition. Her Grand Slam titles have come over an 18-year period starting in 1999, with her latest victory coming at the 2017 Australian Open. Out of competitive tennis for most of 2017 while pregnant, it will be interesting to see if Serena can return to the top of the tennis world in 2018. Certainly making it to the 2018 Wimbledon finals was a step in the right direction and everything points to Serena returning to the top of her game in short order.
I believe the case can now be made to elevate Serena to the greatest female tennis player of all-time. Her high level of play over a very long career combined with her 23-7 record in Grand Slam finals certainly makes the case convincing. No disrespect to Steffi Graf, but Serena now deserves the distinction as greatest of all-time.
Who do you think is the greatest women's tennis player of all-time?
Questions & Answers
- Helpful 14
- Helpful 1
Why is Maria Sharapova not in the list of greatest women's tennis players?
Maria Sharapova has had a great career so far, but with only five Grand Slam titles I don’t think she has cracked the upper echelon of all-time greats. She is 2-19 in head-to-head matches against Serena Williams and has been ranked number 1 in the world for just 21 weeks. Indeed a formidable player, but with so many great players over just the last fifty years, I think Sharapova is more a top 15 all-time player.
- Helpful 2
What about Maria Bueno? Does she belong in the top 10 women's tennis players all-time?
Maria Bueno had a great career that included winning 7 Grand Slam singles titles, 3 Wimbledon and 4 US Open . She is one of two women from South America to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame along with Gabriela Sabatini. With her 63 career titles came a World Number 1 ranking in 1959 and 1960. While a case can certainly be made to include Bueno in the top 10 all-time, I think that she falls into the top 10 to 15 all-time ranking. She was certainly a great player who dominated women's tennis during the late 1950s to mid 1960s.Helpful 3
© 2013 Bill De Giulio