July 15, 2010
On Tuesday, we took issue with Sports Illustrated's proclamation that Serena Williams was the greatest female tennis player of all time. Most of the comments and emails we received on the subject asked the same question — "if Serena's not the best, then who is?"
As a result, Busted Racquet decided to make a list of the top-10 women's tennis players of all time. Feel free to debate, argue, praise or plain tell us we're wrong in the comments, on Twitter or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll post the best replies on Friday.
10. Justine Henin — Seven Grand Slams, 43 titles, 82% win percentage
It was a tough call between Henin and Martina Hingis, but the Belgian gets the No. 10 spot by virtue of her seven Slams (compared to five for Hingis). Not to take anything away from the Swiss star, though. She had more weeks at No. 1 than anyone not named Graf, Evert or Navratilova and dominated the doubles tour during her peak as well.
9. Evonne Goolagong — Seven Grand Slams, 68 titles, 81% win
The Aussie is best remembered for her rivalry with Chris Evert, but she advanced to 18 Grand Slam finals and won seven. Despite making the finals four consecutive times at the U.S. Open, she was never able to prevail at the event.
8. Venus Williams — Seven Grand Slams, 43 titles, 80.5% win
If not for her sister, Venus would doubtlessly have another handful of Grand Slams. As it is, she's been sort of a one-trick pony: five of her seven Slams have come at Wimbledon and the other two were at the U.S. Open. That's not too bad of a trick to have.
7. Monica Seles — Nine Grand Slams, 53 titles, 83% win
Before the tragic stabbing that kept her out of the sport for two years, Seles was on her way to becoming one of the top players ever. Even with it, the Yugoslavian makes the list thanks to nine majors and her dethroning of Steffi Graf at No. 1 in the spring of 1991. She'd stay at No. 1 for 113 of the next 117 weeks as part of a stretch that saw her go 55-1 in Grand Slams.
6. Billie Jean King — 12 Grand Slams, 84 titles, 82.2% win
If we were ranking the most influential tennis players ever, King would be a clear No. 1 (and she'd be up there on a list of all athletes as well). Her pioneering efforts in gender equality and her win over Bobby Riggs in 1973's Battle of the Sexes often make people forget that she was a 12-time Slam winner.
5. Serena Williams — 13 Grand Slams, 37 titles, 80% win
The younger Williams sister may be closer to the top of this list when her career ends, but as of now she doesn't have the resume to compare with the four women above her on the list. The 13 Slams are impressive, but only winning 24 more titles in her career? This list values the majors above everything else, but in order to be considered among the all-time greats, Serena needed to prove her tennis prowess in places other than Melbourne, Paris, Wimbledon and Flushing. As L. Jon Wertheim wrote in SI last week, Serena at her peak may have been the greatest who ever stepped onto the court. But this exercise was to rank the greatest careers, not who had the most talent.
4. Margaret Court — 24 Grand Slams, 92 titles, 91% win (unofficial)
Though her career spanned both the amateur and Open eras, Court could have made this list based on her 1970 season alone. She became the second woman ever to win the Grand Slam, won 21 tournaments and posted a 104-6 record. Her record 24 Grand Slams are often mentioned with a qualifier — "she won 24 but the competition wasn't as good" or "11 of those majors came in Australia and nobody played there back then" — but those complaints reek of favoritism toward the modern era. Twenty-four is 24.
3. Chris Evert — 18 Grand Slams, 157 titles, 90% win
Chrissie's baseline game wouldn't work nearly as well in our current big-hitting era, but in her heyday, the "Ice Maiden" was the most consistent player in the Open Era. She made the semifinals of her first 34 Slams, played in the finals in 76 percent of the 303 tournaments she entered and has the highest win percentage in professional tennis history.
2. Steffi Graf — 22 Grand Slams, 107 titles, 88.7% win
In 1988 and 1989, Graf won 25 of 30 tournaments, seven of eight Grand Slams and an Olympic gold medal. She was No. 1 for a record 337 weeks and is the only player to ever win each Grand Slam four times. Detractors will say that her record is inflated because Monica Seles missed two years after being stabbed on the court, but that shouldn't be held against Graf any more than Court's lack of competition should be held against her. Plus, Steffi won 11 Grand Slams prior to the Seles incident and held a 6-4 record against her rival at the time.
1. Martina Navratilova — 18 Grand Slams, 167 titles, 86.8% win
Take your pick of greatest Martina stats: 1,442 wins, 167 titles, a 74-match win streak, playing in 23 consecutive singles finals, 18 singles titles at Grand Slams, 59 total titles at the Slams, nine victories at Wimbledon. Even as a 53-year-old breast-cancer survivor, Martina could probably hold her own on tour today.