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Top 10 Greatest International Women Tennis Players of All Time

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Steffi Graf
Top 10 Greatest Women's Tennis Players of All Time

Selecting the top ten of anything can be a difficult and subjective task. There have been so many great women players over the last 50 years of the Open Era, 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 during the Open Era of tennis—from 1968 to the present. I have actually included eleven players here, with two greats tied for the tenth position. Here they are….

Martina Hingis

Martina Hingis

Martina Hingis

  • Born September 30, 1980
  • Born in Kosice, Czechoslovakia
  • Resides in Fuesisberg, Switzerland
  • Turned Pro: 1994
  • Retired: 2017
  • Career prize money: $24,749,074
  • 45 career titles
  • 5 Grand Slam Singles Titles: 3 Australian Open, 1 Wimbledon, 1 US Open

With 5 Grand Slam singles titles and 209 weeks ranked number one in the world, Martina Hingis makes a strong argument to be ranked in the top 10 all-time. Factor in her 13 Grand Slam Doubles titles, 7 Mixed Doubles titles, and her 2 Tour Finals titles, and it’s hard to exclude the Swiss star. Her singles career was relatively short due to injuries and her first retirement came in 2003 at just 22 years of age. Had she remained healthy, she certainly would have contended for many more Grand Slam singles titles. Martina was able to extend her tennis career by playing mostly doubles and had great success with 3 Grand Slam Doubles titles in 2017, her final year in competitive tennis.

Justine Henin

Justine Henin

Justine Henin

  • Born: June 1, 1982
  • Born in 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 20 years of competitive tennis. A brief comeback in 2010 was short lived, and she retired for good in early 2011.

Venus Williams

Venus Williams

Venus Williams

  • Born: June 17, 1980
  • Born in Lynwood, California
  • Resides: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
  • Turned pro: 1994
  • Career prize money: $41,958,284
  • 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’ 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.

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King

  • Born: November 22, 1943
  • Born in 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.

Monica Seles

Monica Seles

Monica Seles

  • Born: December 2, 1973
  • Born in 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.

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. In 1991, she was the top-ranked woman in the world.

Chris Evert

Chris Evert

Chris Evert

  • Born: December 21, 1954
  • Born in 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.

Margaret Court

Margaret Court

Margaret Court

  • Born: July 16, 1942
  • Born in 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.

Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova

  • Born: October 18, 1956
  • Born in 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, which includes 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

Steffi Graf

Steffi Graf

Steffi Graf

  • Born: June 14, 1969
  • Born in 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.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

  • Born: September 26, 1981
  • Born in Saginaw, Michigan
  • Resides: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
  • Turned pro: 1995
  • Career prize money: $95,542,122
  • 73 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, Serena has now reached 4 Grand Slam finals without securing that coveted 24th title. Making it to the 2018 and 2019 Wimbledon and US Open finals was certainly a step in the right direction and everything points to Serena remaining competitive despite turning 39 in 2020.

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 23-10 record in Grand Slam finals certainly makes the case convincing. No disrespect to Steffi, Martina, and Margaret, but Serena now deserves the distinction as greatest of all-time

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