Throughout the years, we’ve seen some incredibly talented players ply their trade under the banner of the WTA.
From the extraordinary Williams sisters to the incredibly graceful Chris Evert, the women’s tour has been lit up by a number of unique and diverse talents both before and during the Open Era.
Below, we’ve shortlisted our top five female tennis players of all-time, identifying the individuals who have had the biggest impact on the sport as a whole.
5. Monica Seles
It’s a testament to Seles’ incredible talent that she has kept Evert and Billie Jean-King out of our top five, with these two players having won 30 Grand Slams between them.
Seles herself managed to win nine in a punctuated career, but in our minds there’s no doubt that she could have become the greatest female player of all-time had she not been the victim of infamous, on-court stabbing in 1993 that cost her more than two years of her career.
Prior this career-defining incident, Seles had won a staggering eight Grand Slams before her 20th birthday, claiming six out of the seven that she contested in 1991 and 1992. She had also won her maiden Slam at the French Open in 1990 at the tender age of 16 years and 6 months, and went on to reach a staggering 33 out of 34 tournament finals at the peak of her powers (winning 22 of these).
Ultimately, there is no telling how many Slams or titles Seles would have won on the tour were it not for the stabbing in Hamburg in April, 1993. This essentially ended her chances of dominating the sport, although to her immense credit she did manage to win one more Slam on after her return at the Australian Open in 1996.
Her rivalry with the brilliant Steffi Graf also defined the era, and we’re convinced that she deserves a place in our top five.
4. Margaret Court
In fourth place is the Australian legend Margaret Court, whose career bridged the amateur and the Open era.
Court’s career was also distinctive in that she won a record 62 major honours during her career, including 19 doubles and 19 mixed doubles titles along with her 24 Grand Slams (the most of any female player ever to grace the game). This included a record 11 Australian Open titles, while the brilliant Court also won 192 career honours in total during her illustrious career.
With this in mind, the question that remains is why is Court not higher on our list? In short, she played in a less competitive era than her contemporaries, making it hard to determine how well she would have performed in direct competition with players such as Seles, Graf and the Williams sisters.
Still, she can definitely lay claim to being one of the best players of all-time, while she was also something a trail-blazer when it came to incorporating weights, fitness and nutrition into her training.
3. Martina Navratilova
Next up is arguably the toughest competitor ever to grace the WTA, with the Czech-born Martina Navratilova renowned for her mental fortitude as well as her extreme physical conditioning and unique serve-volley game.
A true icon of the sport, Navratilova earned a total of 167 tour titles during her career, which included 18 Grand Slams (placing her joint fifth with Chris Evert on the all-time list). When you throw in doubles and mixed doubles, she won 59 Grand Slams in total, setting an Open era high but falling just short of the overall record set by her predecessor Court.
Navratilova gets the nod over Court partially due to her intense rivalry with Steffi Graf, which saw the two players face each other on 18 occasions and win nine each. In fact, the Czech had the slight edge with a 5-4 record in all Grand Slam matches, despite being more than 12 years older than her adversary.
Navratilova is also one of the greatest doubles players of all-time, while her longevity is testament to her incredible fitness and desire to compete.
2. Steffi Graf
Steffi Graf can definitely claim to be the most consistent and reliable player of all-time, while her list of achievements in the sport simply have to be seen to be believed.
Graf won a whopping 22 Grand Slam titles in a 17-year career, winning at least four on all surfaces and emerging as the most effective all-court player in history. She also won a total of 107 titles overall, and in 1988 she became the first player to achieve the so-called “career Golden Slam”, by winning all four majors along with an Olympic Gold at the Seoul games.
The German also spent a total of 377 weeks at world number one during her career, and this remains a record in both the men’s and the women’s game.
Ultimately, Graff was dominant from the late 1980s until the emergence of Seles in 1991, and she continued to win regularly throughout the next decade in an extremely competitive field. Given that she was forced to compete with stars like Seles and Navratilova during this time, she’s worthy of consideration as the GOAT.
1. Serena Williams
Having turned pro in 1995, it’s incredible to think that Serena Williams can still compete at the highest level. During a stellar, 23-year career in which she has enjoyed incredible highs and plunged notorious lows, her total of 23 Grand Slams and 72 tour titles represents a truly astonishing achievement in the modern age.
With Williams having recently returned after taking a year out to have her first baby, there’s every chance that she’ll eventually surpass Margaret Court’s haul of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Given that she has achieved this in an extremely competitive Open era, there’s no doubt that she will eventually retire as the best female player of all time.
Beyond her achievements, Williams and her sister Venus has also revolutionised the women’s game and helped to prioritise fitness, strength and power. Her Grand Slam final record of 23-6 is also unrivalled in any era, and Serena is definitely the most successful player in the modern era of the sport.
Given these facts, and the fact that her Slams have come over a grueling, 18-year period, we believe that the younger Williams sister is already established as the best ever.