US Open Tennis 2012: Power Ranking the 5 Best Past Women's Champions
Recently I wrote an article here at Bleacher Report where I Power Ranked the best men's champions in US Open history.
It is time to give their ladies their due.
Similar to the men, the list of past women's US Open champions looks a lot like a listing for the tennis Hall of Fame.
Perhaps even more so than the men, the competition over the women's title at the US Open has generated some of the greatest battles in tennis history.
But who is the best? Who is the greatest past champion of all time? Similar to the men, there is no absolute right or wrong answer. But there are always opinions.
What follows is my power ranking of the top five past women's champions in U.S. Open history.
Unlike the list I made for the men, where champions were limited to the Open era, the women's side of things gets a little more complicated, as you will see, as some of the champions actually overlapped the Amateur Era and the Open Era. But to qualify for the list, a woman had to win at least one US Open championship from the Open Era.
First though, let's take a quick look at a couple of past champions who did not make the top five but were worthy of mentioning as the great champions they were.
Serena Williams wins her third US Open title in 2008 vs Jelena Jankovic
Serena and her sister Venus have dominated women's tennis for a very long time now. The Williams sisters have won an amazing 13 doubles championships in Grand Slam events and have taken home the gold medal in the Olympic Games on three separate occasions.
As far as singles competition goes though, Serena has been the more successful of the two. A good example of this is at the US Open where Serena has won the championship three times as opposed to Venus, who has won twice.
It was actually Serena who broke through first, winning her first tile in 1999 as a No. 7 seed. This was a memorable tournament run for Serena for several reasons. One was her epic quarterfinal battle with Monica Seles that went a full three sets before Serena could prevail 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
In the semifinals, she would again be pushed to a third set before prevailing against Lindsay Davenport, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.
The best moment for Serena though would be in the Final. There she would dismantle the No. 1 seed Martina Hingis in straight sets 6-3, 7-6 (4). It was extra satisfying as Hingis had eliminated Venus in the semifinals.
The Williams sisters would reach the apex of their domination in 2002 and, as luck would have it, would square off against each other in the Final of the 2002 US Open.
Serena had been dominant in her romp to the Final. Venus had been almost as impressive although she did run into a more difficult than expected semifinal match against Amelie Mauresmo, who took Venus to three sets before falling.
In the Final, little sister was too much for her elder sibling as Serena dominated Venus and won her second US Open title, 6-4, 6-2.
After struggling with her play for many years after that, most experts figured that Serena's best years were behind her. But in 2008, as the No. 4 seed, Serena announced to the world that she was back.
Williams put together a truly dominant performance as she did not lose a set the entire tournament. Her stiffest challenge came from Venus in the quarterfinals. Serena would be taken to a tiebreaker twice but would still win in straight sets 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7).
From there, it was a straight set win over Dinara Safina in the semifinals and then a straight set win over Jelena Jankovic in the Final, 6-4, 7-5, and Serena had title number three.
Here in 2012, Serena is once again dominating play, and is through to the semifinals after another impressive win over Ana Ivanovic (ESPN). She looks incredible and could very well walk away with her fourth title this year.
If that happens, then she will have to be in the Top Five if and when this list is revisited.
For now though, she gets listed as an Honorable Mention—but a tremendous champion all the same.
My other Honorable Mention goes to another three-time champion, Kim Clijsters.
The former No. 1 ranked player in the world captured her first US Open championship in 2005. Coming in as the No. 4 seed, Clijsters overpowered the competition until she reached the quarterfinals.
In the Final though, Clijsters was magnificent in a straight set thrashing of Mary Pierce, 6-3, 6-1.
Clijsters victory in 2009 was one of the more unlikely runs to the title in US Open history. True, as a former champion her victory cannot be considered a massive upset. But it was unexpected when the strength of the entire field was considered.
Clijsters was unseeded and a wild card entrant into the tournament having come out of a two year retirement to compete. No unseeded and wild card player had ever won the US Open before.
Her unlikely run picked up speed in the second round when she upset No. 14 seed Marion Bartoli in three sets.
In the fourth round, Clijsters would take out the No. 3 seed, Venus Williams, in three back and forth sets. Clijsters won the first set at love only to have Williams return the favor in the second set. In the third set, Clijsters would prevail 6-4 to move on to the quarterfinals.
It was Clijsters semifinal match with the defending champion, Serena Williams that will always be remembered for Serena's multiple meltdowns and code violations. Not that it would have made much difference but Serena's lack of judgment certainly made Clijsters task much easier.
After that, Clijsters had little trouble in dispatching ninth seeded Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 6-3 to capture her second title.
Clijsters third victory, in 2010, was not nearly so dramatic. She was the defending champion and the No. 2 seed this time around. Still, the victory would not come without its share of struggle.
Clijsters was taken to three sets in the quarterfinals by Samantha Stosur. In the semifinals, Clijsters would wage another epic battle against one of the Williams sisters, this time coming from a set down to beat Venus, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4.
Once that was done, Clijsters routed Vera Zvonareva in just an hour, 6-2, 6-1.
Her incredible run to the championship in 2009 was pretty much enough to get her an Honorable Mention.
Her three titles overall made it an even easier choice.
5. Billie Jean King
Bille Jean King Wins the 1971 US Open Championship over Rosemary Casals
Billie Jean King may best be known for mopping the court with the backside of then 59 year old Bobby Riggs in 1973's "Battle of the Sexes." It was a landmark moment that legitimized women's tennis.
To remember Billie Jean King just for that is, in my opinion, an insult to the memory of one of the best US Open women's champions ever.
King would win, technically anyway, her first US Open championship in 1967. This occurred prior to the advent of the Open Era when the event was known as the US National Championships. A straight set victory over Ann Haydon Jones, 11-9, 6--4, gave King her first US championship.
In 1971, King would officially win her first US Open championship. In a truly dominating performance, King did not lose a set as she pretty much coasted to the championship.
One of the interesting moments was in the semifinals when King would beat a young, unseeded Chris Evert in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2. King would win the battle on this day but Evert would be back—and then some.
In the Final, King overwhelmed Rosemary Casals 6-4, 7-6 to win her second US championship and her first of the Open Era.
King would be back in 1972 to defend her title and this was an impressive championship run to say the least. The quality of competition in the 1972 US Open was amazing and some of the all time greats in women's tennis competed.
In the quarterfinals, she would defeat Virginia Wade in straight sets. In the semifinals, she would down one of the all-time greats, and one of King's biggest rivals, Margaret Court, 6-4, 6-4.
In the Final, King would win her second straight title as she defeated ninth seeded Kerry Melville, 6-3, 7-5.
In 1973, King was forced to retire in the third set of her third round match against Julie Heldman. Court would take advantage of King's absence to capture the 1973 title.
In 1974 though, King would be back in a big way. One of the biggest moments for King would be in the semifinals, where she exercised the demons of a year earlier by beating Heldman in a three set clash, 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.
In the Final, King would defeat Evonne Goolagong in a great three set match, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
It would be King's final US Open championship, although not her final Grand Slam title as she would win Wimbledon the following summer.
With four overall titles, three of them in the Open Era, during a time when many tennis legends were still playing very well and when young future stars like Chris Evert were emerging, there is little doubt that Billie Jean King is one of the greatest US Open champions of all time.
4. Martina Navratilova
Martina Navratilova captures her first US Open championship beating Chris Evert in 1983
By the accounts of many, Martina Navratilova is the greatest women's tennis player ever. There is a lot to support that argument as Navratilova captured 18 Grand Slam singles titles during her magnificent career, including four US Open championships.
Her first championship came in 1983. By this point in her career, Navratilova was already a hugely successful player as she had won Wimbledon four times, the Australian Open twice and the French Open once.
Still, the US Open eluded her. Many will recall that 1983 was about the time that Navratilova switched over to graphite racquet's and the women's division was never the same.
The 1983 US Open was a virtual walkover for Navratilova as she absolutely dominated the competition. She did not drop a set and only lost a total of 15 games on her way to the Final.
Once there, she would face her biggest rival, Chris Evert. By this time, the Evert vs. Navratilova rivalry was in full swing. But on this day, Evert fared no better than anyone else as Martina cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 win and her first US Open title.
In 1984, Navratilova would successfully defend her title. Once again, Martina was quite dominant, albeit not quite to the extent she was in 1983. For instance, in 1984, Navratilova lost 31 games on her way to the Final, more than double the number of games she dropped the year before.
The Final would be one of the better ones in women's US Open history. Once again, Navratilova would square off with Evert but this time Chris was ready.
The epic battle would take place on what tennis fans have now termed Super Saturday as the women's final was sandwiched between an amazing five set war between Ivan Lendl and Pat Cash and the main event of the day: another five set brawl between two-time defending men's champion, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe (USA Today).
For their part, Navratilova and Evert did not disappoint at all. Evert would win the first set but Navratilova would then dig deep to claim the next two sets and her second US Open championship, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
After being upset by Hana Mandlikova in the 1985 Final, Navratilova would capture her third title in 1986. The run to the 1986 title would be unique as in the quarterfinals, Navratilova would have to take on her longtime doubles partner, with whom she won four US Open doubles titles, Pam Shriver.
Shriver was no match for Navratilova. In the semifinals though, Navratilova would be pushed to the brink by an up and coming challenger named Steffi Graf. Navratilova would need three sets to defeat Graf including a classic 10-8 tiebreaker in the third set.
With Graf out of the way, Navratilova would win title number three with a straight set 6-3, 6-2 win over Helena Sukova.
Navratilova's final title would come the next year in 1987. By now, Graf had pretty much replaced Martina as the No. 1 player in the world and had also claimed the No. 1 seed from her for the tournament.
There was little doubt the two would meet each other in the Final and, with the exception of Graf being pushed to three sets by a spirited Lori McNeil in the semifinals, the two women went about dismantling all remaining competition.
Once the Final arrived though, Navratilova showed Graf that she still had much to learn as Martina took home title number four with a 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory.
With four singles titles and an amazing nine doubles championships at the US Open, it is easy to see why Martina Navratilova is one of the all-time great US Open champions.
3. Margaret Court
Margaret Court completes the Grand Slam in 1970
In the history of women's tennis, only three women can say they are owners of the Grand Slam, winners of the four major tennis events in one calendar year.
Two of them appear in the Top 3 of these power rankings.
The first of the two is Margaret Court. The Australian superstar won 24 singles Grand Slam titles during her career and added 19 doubles titles to her resume. Included in all of that are five US Open championships including three during the Open Era.
Court's first, technically speaking, US Open championship came in 1962 when she defeated Darlene Hard in straight sets, 9-7, 6-4. This, of course, took place during the Amateur Era when the tournament was known as the US National Championships and was contested on the grass courts of Forest Hills.
Her second championship would come in 1965, again on the grass courts of Forest Hills, when she defeated one of her main rivals over the years, Bill Jean King, 8-6, 7-5.
It was just one of many battles between Court and King and the two have remained inextricably intertwined even after their tennis careers ended due to Court's anti-gay sentiments and King being an active proponent for gay and lesbian rights.
In 1969, the second year of the Open Era, Court captured her first official US Open championship and her third title overall. As the No. 2 seed, Court did not have too much trouble in winning the tournament. In the semifinals, she defeated the defending champion, Virginia Wade, in straight sets.
In the Final, Court was simply too much for Nancy Richey as she captured the title with a straight set 6-2, 6-2 win.
1970 would be a magical year for Margaret Court and one of the great performances in tennis history. Having already captured the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon earlier that year, Court needed only to win the US Open to become, at the time, only the second woman to ever claim the elusive Grand Slam.
Coming in as the No. 1 seed, Court was not seriously challenged up until the Final. In the Final though, Court would be pushed hard by the No. 2 seed, Rosie Casals. After splitting the first two sets, Court would ultimately gain control in the third set. She completed the Grand Slam with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 win over Casals.
Court's fifth, and final singles Grand Slam title, would come in 1973. By this time, King had become the top ranked player in the world and she came into the US Open as the favorite. Court, who had taken some time away from the game to be a mother, came in as the No. 2 seed.
Her journey to her fifth title was much more difficult than her prior triumphs had been.
Virginia Wade would force her to two tiebreakers in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, a very young Chris Evert would push Court to three sets before finally falling.
Then, in the Final, Court played one of her best matches. She was matched up against Evonne Goolagong, who had defeated Court in the 1971 Wimbledon Final.
The two champions engaged in a Final for the ages. The two women split the first two sets with 7-5 victories. In the third set, Goolagong seemed to run out of steam and Court took advantage. At the end of the day, Court had captured her fifth US Open championship with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 win.
With a phenomenal career spanning both the Amateur and Open Eras, Margaret Court was one of those truly dominating competitors. Her five US Open championships, against some of the very best competition in the late 1960's and early 1970's, easily establishes her as being one of the best US Open champions ever.
2. Steffi Graf
Steffi Graf completes the Grand Slam in 1988 by winning the US Open
Steffi Graf remains, to this day, the only tennis player, male or female, to complete what has been called the Golden Slam. In 1988, this took place when Graf won the Grand Slam then went to the Olympics in Seoul and won the gold medal.
It is something the tennis world may never see repeated.
She is considered by many to be the greatest women's tennis player ever.
During her amazing career, Graf won a total of 22 Grand Slam singles titles and, of course, the aforementioned gold medal. Included in those remarkable statistics are five US Open championships.
Her first title came in 1988 and it would culminate only the third Grand Slam in women's tennis history. Her Grand Slam run in 1988 was one of the most impressive performances ever. Graf dropped only one set in winning the other three Grand Slam events and came to the US Open as the heavy favorite to win.
She steamrolled her way to the Final where she would finally be challenged by Gabriela Sabatini. Sabatini would play one of the better matches of her career and would force Graf to a third set. But Graf was just too strong and she completed the Grand Slam, and won her first US Open championship, with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory.
Graf would successfully defend her title in 1989 but the repeat would not come easily. Graf would blow through her opponents in the early rounds but would again run into Sabatini in the semifinals.
Sabatini was one of the few tennis players around at this time who gave Graf trouble and she took the first set. But Graf would storm back and win the next two sets to advance to the Finals.
There she would meet one of the other women who could hold her own against Graf—Martina Navratilova.
For the second straight match, Graf would drop the opening set. And, for the second straight match, she would rally and win the next two sets. Graf would win her second consecutive US Open championship with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 win.
In 1990, Sabatini would finally get the better of Graf and beat her for the US Open title. It would not be until 1993 that Graf would capture her third US Open championship.
In 1993, Monica Seles was the defending US Open champion and, in the opinions of many, she had replaced Graf as the dominant women's tennis player.
But In April of 1993, Seles was the victim of the now infamous incident where she was stabbed by a fan during a break between games on the court in Hamburg. Seles would be gone from tennis for two years and Graf would take advantage of her absence.
Graf would enter the 1993 US Open as the No. 1 seed and she had no problems early on. In a recurrent theme, Sabatini was waiting for her, this time in the quarterfinals. Not surprisingly, Sabatini took Graf to three sets before Steffi could exercise the demons from 1990 and prevail.
In the semifinals, Graf would again be pressed to the limit by Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere. After dropping the first set, Graf dominated the next two and would then face Helena Sukova in the Final.
Sukova, the No. 12 seed had surprised many by making it to the Final. Graf proved to be more than she could handle though and Graf won her third US Open championship with the 6-3, 6-3 victory.
Graf would return to the Final in 1994 but would be beaten by Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in three sets. In 1995 though, Graf would win her fourth title and would gain some redemption.
After being pushed to a third set in the opening round by Amanda Coetzer, Graf then went on a tear. Not even Sabatini could challenge her as Graf beat her in straight sets in the semifinals.
In the Final, Graf would take on the returning Monica Seles. Graf would win the first set in a tiebreaker but then Seles would shockingly win the second set at love. Graf, however, would gain control in the third set and would eventually overcome a game challenge from Seles as she won her fourth US Open championship, 7-6 (6), 0-6, 6-3.
Her fifth and final US Open championship would come the next year in 1996. Graf might have actually saved her best for last. She did not drop a set the entire tournament.
In the Final, she would again face Seles but there would be no drama this time out. Graf captured her fifth US Open championship with a 7-5, 6-4 win.
For almost a decade Steffi Graf was a fixture at the US Open and played at the highest level. Her place as the second greatest US Open champion is well deserved.
1. Chris Evert
Chris Evert wins her sixth and final US Open championship
When talking about the greatest US Open champions of all time, Chris Evert has to be not just in the discussion but at the top of the discussion.
Evert is the only six-time winner of the US Open, male or female, during the Open Era. She was one of the most popular champions ever and remains one of the most beloved figures in the history of women's tennis.
Evert's first US Open championship came in 1975. The defending champion, Billie Jean King did not defend the title and Evert came into the contest as the No. 1 seed. Evert looked the part all the way to the Final. In the semifinals, Evert would beat Martina Navratilova, in the early days of their blooming rivalry, in straight sets.
In the Final, Evert would upend Evonne Goolagong in a thrilling three set match. Goolagong would win the first set, But Evert would come back with a vengeance and capture her first US Open championship with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 win.
In 1976, Evert would win her second consecutive US Open. In one of the most dominating performances in Open Era history, Evert would lose only 12 games the entire tournament. In the Final, she would once again meet Goolagong.
This time, Evert was just far too strong and she trounced Goolagong 6-3, 6-0 for her second consecutive US Open championship.
In 1977, Evert would win her third consecutive title. Once again, Evert was dominant as she did not drop a set the entire tournament. One of the highlight moments was Evert's crushing of former champion, Billie Jean King, in the quarterfinals.
In the Final, Evert would tangle with Wendy Turnbull. Evert would win her third straight title with a 7-6, 6-2 win.
In 1978, Evert would win her fourth straight US Open crown. Earlier in the year, she had been replaced by Navratilova as the top ranked women's player and despite her three prior titles, Evert was the second seed in the tournament.
Once again, Evert would essentially cruise to the championship. Many thought Evert would get tested by 15 year old phenom Tracy Austin in the quarterfinals, but Evert won in straight sets anyway.
In the Final, Evert would beat Pam Shriver 7-5, 6-4 for her fourth straight US Open Championship.
In 1979, Austin, at the ripe old age of 16 years and nine months, would end Evert's run of consecutive championships when she beat her in the Final.
Evert's hiatus from being the top dog at the US Open was short lived as she would be back on top in 1980. In the semifinals, she would gain a measure of revenge on Austin as she ousted the defending champion in three sets.
In the Final, Evert would drop the first set to Hana Mandlikova but would then control the final two sets on the way to her fifth US Open championship, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.
Evert's sixth and final US Open championship would have to wait until 1982 as in 1981 she would be defeated in three classic sets by Navratilova in the semifinals. But in 1982, Evert was back to her magnificent self.
She did get a scare in the quarterfinals though as she was pushed to three sets by the unseeded Bonnie Gadusek. But after that threat was gone, and after Austin and Navratilova had both suffered upset losses in the quarterfinals, the path was cleared for Evert's triumph.
After easily dispatching Andrea Jaeger in the semifinals, Evert would once again face Hana Mandlikova in the Final.
Once again, Evert had little trouble with Mandlikova as she won in straight sets 6-3, 6-1 for her record setting sixth US Open championship.
By the time she was finished with her career, Evert would win 18 Grand Slam singles titles. She might not have won the Grand Slam, like Court of Graf, but no women's tennis player staked a claim to the US Open quite like Chris Evert.
With six titles, and four in a row, Chris Evert is the greatest past women's champion in US Open history.