When discussing the Greatest Male Players in the Open Era, the top of the list usually begins and ends with Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. Some might throw in Rod Laver, but the list is short. The women’s list is much more complicated. Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Margaret Smith Court can all lay clay to that title. Others might suggest Monica Seles could have topped the list if she hadn't missed two and half years after getting stabbed. Serena Williams has also missed significant parts of her career with injuries and should still have a few slams left before retiring and no one contributed more to the overall success of the women's game than Billie Jean King.
Sukova was an under the radar player in the 1980’s. She reached a career high ranking of fourth on March 18, 1985, reached four Grand Slam Finals, one WTA year final and won ten tour titles in her career. She also won 14 combined doubles and mixed doubles Grand Slam titles and 69 doubles titles in her career.
Pierce played in six Grand Slam Singles finals during her career. She captured the 1995 Australian Open and 2000 French Open. She also advanced to the finals of the year end Championships twice. The Naturalized French Citizen earned nearly $10 Million in her career and finished with 20 titles.
Mauresmo finished runner-up at the 1999 Australian Open and then won down under in 2006. She followed that up with a Wimbledon title later that summer. She also won a Silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the Year End Championships in 2005. Mauresmo's 2006 Australian title garnered controversy after Justine Henin mysteriously retired with a stomach ailment. Mausesmo retired from the WTA at 30 with injuries and holding ten career titles.
Austin burst on to the scene at just 16. She shocked Billie Jean King in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and then won the US Open in 1979. At just 16, she became the youngest US Open champion. She won also won the 1981 US Open and captured 30 titles in her career. Austin was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992. She was the youngest person ever inducted at just 29.
Novotna won 24 titles in her career including Wimbledon in 1998. She also advanced to the the finals of the 1993 Australian Open and Wimbledon in 1993 and 1997. Her breakdown in the ‘93 final against Steffi Graf is legendary. Up 4-1 and 40-15 in the third set, Novotna collapsed. In the post match trophy presentation, Novotna cried on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder after losing the final six games of the match to practically hand the title to Graf.
Martinez was a well rounded player that reached the finals at three of the four grand slams during her career. She won Wimbledon in 1994 at the age of 22. She reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam 12 times. Martinez won 33 career titles and reached a high of number two in October of 1995.
Mandlikova first gained world recognition when she was named the first women’s junior number one. She was generally regarded as the third best player behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. She won four career Grand Slam singles titles and losses to Evert in 1981 and Navratilova in 1986 in the Wimbledon Finals kept her from winning the career slam. She finished her career with 27 titles.
Gaby Sabby captured only one career grand slam title in her career, but was still one of the best players of her generation. Much like the men during the first ten years of the 21st century, the women of the WTA in the late 1980’s and for much of the 1990’s were stymied by Steffi Graf’s dominance. She also won two WTA Year End tour titles and the Silver Medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Sabatini advanced to the semifinals of 18 Grand Slams between the 1985 French Open and 1995 US Open. She retired in 1996 with 27 career singles titles.
Sanchez-Vicario comes from a tennis playing family. Her older brothers Javier and Emilio both had successful careers on the ATP Tour. She became one of the youngest players ever to win a Grand Slam when she captured the French title in 1989 at 17. She won 29 career titles and was ranked number one for 12 weeks in 1995 and 96.
Sanchez-Vicario advanced to 12 Grand Slam Finals, but only won four of those.
She appeared in the Finals of all four slams, but was only able to win three French titles and the 1994 US Open. Her detractors would point to her dominance on Clay and inability to win in Australia and at Wimbledon as a reason to keep her low on the list. She did lose five times to Steffi Graf in a slam final.
Like Sanchez-Vicario, Sharapova shocked the tennis world when she won her first grand slam title at 17. She stunned two time defending Wimbledon Champion Serena Williams in straight sets to win the All England Lawn Tennis Title in 2004. She also won the 2006 US Open title and 2008 Australian Championships. Losses in the semi-finals in 2007 and 2011 at Roland Garros have kept Sharapova from winning the career slam. Her 17 weeks at the top of the WTA rankings are 15th best all-time. Her 23 career titles rank fourth among active players. At just 25, Sharapova still has many good years ahead of her.
Wade remains the last Brit to win a Grand Slam. She won three career slams, two in the Open Era. Wade won 55 titles in her career and her 24 appearances at Wimbledon are a record.
Davenport’s 55 career titles tie her with Virginia Wade for seventh most all-time on the WTA Tour. She won the US Open in 1998, Wimbledon in 1999 and the Australian Open in 2000. She also captured the Gold Medal in Atlanta at the 1996 Olympics. Only a semifinal loss at the 1998 French Open prevented her from a chance at the career slam. She appeared in seven grand slam finals during her career. All of her Grand Slam Finals losses were to the Williams sisters, three to Venus and one to Serena.
Evonne Goolagong biggest accomplisment might be that she was the first mother to win a Grand Slam title in the Open Era. She reached 18 Grand Slam singles finals in her career, winning seven. She also won 68 career titles.
Like Evonne Goolagong before her, Clijsters was able to return to the top of the WTA Tour after having a baby. She has won four Grand Slam titles in her career and has four slam runners-up. Clijsters has three year end championship titles on her resume. She has advanced to the Final Four of a Slam 15 times.
Clijsters is one of the best athletes on tour as evidenced by her all court game. Her persistence and mental toughness are a key to her career. Clijsters did not win a slam until her fifth appearance in a final.
Jennifer Capriati was one of the most hyped players in women’s tennis history. She lived up to the hype early by advancing to the finals of two of her first three tournaments. She advanced to the semifinals at her first French Open in 1990 and later that year became the youngest player ever ranked in the top ten. She would follow that up with semifinal appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open in 1991. She ended that season ranked sixth. In 1992, Capriati upset Monica Seles and Steffi Graf at the Olympics to earn the Gold. With a hard hitting game and a bright future in front of her, Capriati appeared to be the heir apparent to Graf as WTA’s dominant player.
After losing in the first round of the 1993 US Open, Capriati surprisingly decided to take time off from tennis. She would not become a consistent tour player again until 1999. During that long hiatus, Capriati would be arrested for shoplifting, among other legal troubles.
She signaled her return as one of the WTA's best players when she advanced to the semifinal in Australia in 2000. A year later, Capriati won her first Grand Slam title 11 years after she began her career. In the 2001 final, she shocked World Number one and three time champion Martina Hingis in straight sets. She followed up the first grand slam title of her career by outlasting Kim Clijsters 1-6,6-4, 12-10 to win the French Open that spring. She finished 2001 by reaching the semifinals of all four slams. She also reached number one for the first time in her career and finished the season ranked second.
She stunned Hingis again a year later down under. Down a set and 4-0 in the second, Capriati staged one of the greatest comebacks in tennis history. She saved four match points on her way to a 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 victory
After her final grand slam title in 2002, Capriati’s grand title runs usually ended in an heartbreaking defeat. The most crushing of those came to Justine Henin at the 2003 US Open. Capriati twice served for the match and was two points away from victory 11 times.
Her fascinating career ended after shoulder and wrist injuries prevented her from playing at the end of the 2004 season.
Hingis’ 209 weeks at number one rank only behind Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova (from who she is named) and Chris Evert all-time. She won five career Grand Slams and losses in the 1997 and 99 French Opens is the only thing that kept her from the career slam. She also had five other Grand Slam final losses in her career.
At the peak of her career, Hingis was one of the most dominant players the sport has seen. Beginning with the 1996 US Open through the 2002 Australian Open, Hingis advanced to at least the semifinals of 20 Slams. She retired from the sport at just 22 in 2002. She had a limited successful comeback in 2006 and 2007 before retiring again after receiving a ban for testing positive for cocaine.
Venus Williams burst on top the tennis landscape when she was the runner-up to Hingis at the 1997 US Open. She would capture her first Slam title three years later when she won Wimbledon. Her seven titles in the 2000’s tied her for second with Justine Henin behind her sister Serena and also tie her for eighth all time. Venus haa finished runner-up at a Grand Slam seven times, six of those to Serena. Venus has 43 career titles.
Henin’s 43 WTA tie her for tenth all-time.She won seven career Grand Slams and spent 117 weeks at number one. Henin was criticized after becoming the only woman in the Open Era to retire in the Final of Grand Slam with an injury. Playing against Amelie Mauresmo Henin retired citing severe stomach pain while trailing 6-1, 2-0 in the 2006 Final.
Seles 178 weeks at number one rank fifth all-time on the WTA Tour. In 1990 she became the youngest French Open champion when she won the title at the age of 16. Her nine Grand Slam titles tie her for eighth and 53 WTA titles are ninth all time. If she hadn't missed 2.5 years after being stabbed on court, she would likely be considered one of the top five players ever.
The book on Serena Williams career is still being written. Her 13 Grand Slam titles rank fourth in the open era. Her 13-3 record in Grand Slam Finals is one of the best winning percentages ever. Her $42 Million in career earning is the most of any female athlete ever. She has been criticized during her career for having too many outside interests. If not for various absences during her career with injuries, than she would likely be higher on this list.
Some declare Smith Court as the greatest player that ever played. She has 24 career Grand Slam singles titles, but 13 of those titles were before the Open Era.
She also won 11 of those titles at her home country Australian Open. She was the first woman during the open era to win a grand slam. She swept the four titles in 1970. She lost only five times in a grand slam final.
Billie Jean King has done more for women’s tennis than any other player. She helped establish the WTA in 1973, gave women’s tennis notoriety when she defeated Bobby Riggs in the battle of the sexes and has served as a mentor for many top players including the Williams’ sisters.
She won 84 tournaments and six Grand Slam singles titles during the Open Era. If you based her complete accomplishments on what she has done for tennis beyond the court, she would be number one. In addition to helping create the WTA Tour she also was a champion for equal pay for the women’s tour. She won the career Grand Slam. Between 1966-75, King ended the season ranked number one six times.
The Grand Dame of Tennis, the women’s game would not be not be where it is without her.
Evert was one of the first true sex symbols of the WTA. Chrissy was America’s Sweetheart. As a competitor, few were as mentally tough. She was known as the Ice Queen. Her 260 weeks and 113 consecutive weeks at number one rank third only to Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova. Her 18 Slam Titles in the Open Era, tie her for second with Navratilova .
Her rivalry with Navratilova is greatest in the history of women’s tennis. “Martina and Chrissy" met an astounding 80 times during their careers with Navratilova holding a 43-37 advantage, including a 10-4 head-to-head record in Grand Slam finals. The rivalry lasted 15 years, a feat that may not be matched today. She won each of the Grand Slam titles twice and the Year End Championship four times. Evert’s nine Slam Titles in the 1970’s ranked first and nine in the 1980’s ranked second. Her seven French Open titles are the most ever.
Off the court, Evert had many highly publicized romances. She has also gone for athletes. She dated Jimmy Connors in the 1970’s eventually married British Tennis Star John Lloyd and then divorced him and married US Ski Olympian Andy Mill, the father of her sons. In recent years she married and then divorced Golf legend Greg Norman. After many years away from announcing, she returned to the mic with ESPN for this year’s Wimbledon.
Navratilova was the first true serve and volley player on the women’s side. She has four of the sport’s longest winning streaks during the open her. Her record 74 match winning streak still stands today. She holds too many Grand Slam and WTA records to count. Included in that is a streak of six straight Grand Slam singles titles from Wimbledon in 1983 through the 1984 US Open. She finished the year ranked number one seven times, a total only topped by Steffi Graf. Her 332 weeks and 156 consecutive weeks at number one are also a total only topped by Graf. About the only thing missing from her career was that she never completed the Grand Slam in a calendar year.
Graf is the only player to ever win the Golden Slam. She won all four Grand Slam tournaments and the Olympic Gold Medal in Seoul in 1988. Her accomplishment is even more impressive considering that she is the only women’s player to accomplish that goal on three different surfaces (clay, grass and hard court).
She holds the women’s Open Era record of 22 Grand Slam titles and 377 weeks total and 186 consecutive weeks ranked No. 1 on the WTA Tour.
Her 10-year stretch between 1987 and 1997 ranked in the top two in the world is also a record. She is the only player to win each of the four Grand Slam titles at least four times. From the 1987 French through the 1990 French, Graf advanced to 13 consecutive major finals, winning nine of them. She finished the year ranked No. 1 a record eight times.
Even more amazing is that she accomplished the year end number ones in an eight-year span. In her final Grand Slam triumph at the 1999 French Open, she became the only player to ever beat the top three players (Hingis, Davenport and Seles) in the same tournament. Her 107 titles rank third all-time.
No one in Open Era can match her accomplishments. Her 22 slams ranks second only to Court-Smith all-time. Considering how much more sophisticated players are now, she is arguably the greatest player ever. She was named as the greatest player of the 20th Century by a few media outlets.
The only criticism Graf could receive is that at the height of her career her main rival missed significant time. The two-and-a-half years that Monica Seles missed after getting stabbed helped keep Graf at the top.