Deconstructing No. 1: The Top 16 Women Who Dominated on the Tennis Court

JA AllenSenior Writer IFebruary 26, 2011

Deconstructing No. 1: The Top 16 Women Who Dominated on the Tennis Court

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    Points given in a WTA sponsored tennis tournament are used to calculate a players ranking and who ultimately is the No. 1 player on the women’s tour. 

    Points gained are totaled for one year. Then as the event rolls around again on the calendar, the points earned last year fall off and new points won replace them.

    Various tournaments have different point values with the slams offering the most points. For example, the winner of a major receives 2000 ranking points.

    The further a player advances in the tournament, the more points she will earn.

    Ultimately for the women on tour, only the player's best 17 tournaments count toward total ranking points. That means a player cannot simply add to her ranking total by entering every tournament.

    Historically, for the women’s tour, ranking did not even appear as a statistic until 1921.

    Back then rankings were subjective, based on human observation, often a professional panel. Certainly there was no universal system. Calculation of rankings were not point-based until 1975.

    Despite the inadequacies of past record-keeping, evidence exists that indicate a number of very talented female players held the No. 1 ranking and dominated the women's game prior to 1975.  

    We will use prior subjective rankings and convert those records to an appropriate number of weeks in order to rank the dominance of the top 16 female tennis players since 1921.

16. Louise Brough Clapp: 91 Weeks

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    16. Louise Brough Clapp: U.S. Shared No. 1 ranking in 1947, 1948 and in 1955 (91 weeks)

    American Louise Brough Clapp was a major force in women’s tennis after World War II.

    Hailing from California, Brough Clapp received her training under the tutelage of Dick Skeen who helped the young American perfect her groundstrokes and her devastating American Twist serve.

    Her remarkable volleying skills seemed to come naturally.

    During her career, Brough Clapp won the Australian Open in 1950, Wimbledon in 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1955 as well as the U.S. Open in 1947.

    She also won 20 grand slam doubles titles including seven in mixed doubles.

    She reached the No. 1 ranking in 1947, 1948 and again in 1953.

15. Lindsay Davenport: 98 Weeks

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 23:  Tennis star Lindsay Davenport attends the 2008 Arthur Ashe Kids Day at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 23, 2008 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Wal
    Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

    15. Lindsay Davenport: U.S. Reached No. 1 for a total of 98 weeks

    American Lindsay Davenport held the No. 1 ranking for 98 weeks with her longest consecutive streak totaling 44 weeks from October of 2004 through August of 2005.

    In her career Davenport won three grand slam singles titles and an Olympic Gold Medal in singles tennis.

    She ended four years as the No. 1 ranked player in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2005.  

    Standing 6’2 1/2” Davenport made her game flow around her big serve.

    She played right-handed with a two-handed backhand.

    Her well-timed groundstrokes helped her build a game of consistency and power.

    After Davenport lost 30 pounds, her court movement improved as well as her overall game.

    She became a dominating player on the women's tour in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

14. Justine Henin: 117 Weeks

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21:  Justine Henin of Belgium plays a forehand in her third round match against Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia during day five of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    14. Justine Henin: Belgian Stayed No. 1 for a Total of 117 Weeks.

    Recently re-retired Justine Henin held the top spot in women’s tennis for a total of 117 weeks with her longest consecutive streak at 61 weeks.

    Henin shocked the tennis world when she first retired in May of 2008 while ranked No. 1.

    The Belgian came back out of retirement after 16 months in time to play in the 2010 Brisbane International where Henin made it all the way to the final, losing to countrywoman Kim Clijsters.

    The Belgian followed that result by making it to the finals of the 2010 Australian Open where Henin lost to her long-time rival, Serena Williams.  

    These seemed remarkable results considering Henin's long absence from the game.

    Henin played on throughout the year until the 2010 Wimbledon Championships where she suffered a bad fall causing a partial ligament fracture in her elbow which rendered her unable to compete for the rest of the year. 

    This injury seemed to nullify her ability and her desire to fight on. Henin retired again after her defeat by Svetlana Kuznetsova during the 2011 Australian Open.  

    Holding an Olympic Gold medal and seven grand slam titles, Henin had hoped to add a Wimbledon trophy to her mantle.

    But that does not appear a likelihood now.

13. Serena Williams: 123 Weeks

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Serena Williams of USA serves during the Ladies Singles Final Match against Vera Zvonareva of Russia on Day Twelve of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 3, 2010 in Lo
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    13. Serena Williams: U.S. To Date Ranked No. 1 for 123 Weeks in Total.

    Serena Williams is the only active participant on the list of No. 1 ranked players. To date Williams has been No. 1 for 123 weeks in total.

    Her two longest consecutive streaks came in July of 2002 through August of 2003 for 57 weeks

    Williams built another streak starting in November of 2009 through October of 2010 for 49 weeks.

    She has so far been ranked No. 1 five different times in her career.

    Currently Williams is sidelined with a foot injury she suffered after winning the Wimbledon crown in 2010.

    She cut her foot on some broken glass and subsequently had surgery on that foot which has not healed well enough for her to return to action.

    As a result, Williams missed the U.S. Open in 2010 and the Australian Open in 2011.

    To date the American has won 27 grand slam titles including 13 in singles, 12 in doubles and two in mixed doubles. 

    She won a career grand slam in 2002-2003 holding all four major titles. It was known simply as the Serena Slam.

    Riddled with injury, Williams has had an up-and-down career with an equally up-and-down ranking.

    Speculation continues as to whether she will be back in action in time for the 2011 French Open even though she is scheduled to appear at the 2011 Miami Masters.  

    The question remains, will Serena dominate the women's tour again?

12. Maria Bueno: 143 Weeks

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    12. Maria Bueno: Brazil -  No 1 in 1959-1960; shared title in 1964 and 1966 - 143 Weeks

    Brazilian Maria Bueno spent four years at the top of the women’s rankings in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

    Bueno was ranked No. 1 in 1959-1960 and again in 1964 and 1966.

    During her career the Brazilian won 19 grand slam titles.

    Bueno won the Wimbledon Championship three times and the U.S Open championship four times. She also competed as a finalist in the French Open in 1964 and the Australian Open in 1965.

    In 1960 Bueno won all four grand slam doubles championships becoming the first woman to accomplish that.

    In total the Brazilian won eleven grand slam doubles trophies and one mixed double title.

    Her graceful all-court presence seemed to belie her aggression and her crafty match play. Bueno remains one of the best in the history of the women's game.

10. Margaret Osborne DuPont: 156 Weeks (tie)

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    10. Margaret Osborne duPont: U.S. Shared No. 1 Ranking in 1947 and 1948; 1949, 1950 (156 weeks)

    American Margaret Osborne duPont found herself on the top rung of women’s tennis after the conclusion of World War II.

    Once competition resumed, the American dominated on tennis courts in 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1950.

    During her reign, DuPont won the French Open in 1946 and 1949, Wimbledon in 1947 and the U.S. Open Championships in 1948, 1949 and 1950.

    But her true gifts were on full display during doubles play where Osborne-duPont  won 31 grand slam doubles titles, include 10 in mixed doubles.

    She excelled in the deuce court with impressive instincts and court presence. These skills translated into singles making her a winner there as well.

    She was a superb player because she remained calm under pressure with great poise and fiery determination.

10. Maureen Connolly Brinker: 156 Weeks (tie)

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    10. Maureen Connolly Brinker: U.S. 1952-1954 (3 years) (156 weeks)

    American “Mo” Connolly is best known as the first woman to win a grand slam–winning all four slam championships in the same calendar year.

    That year was 1953. At the time Connolly was 18 years of age.

    Little Mo, as she was affectionately known, was the World No. 1 ranked player from 1952-1954, three years in total.

    She was renowned for her deft ground strokes, her clean ball striking and her sheer determination on court.

    During her brief career, Connolly Brinker won the Australian Open once in 1953. She went on to win the French Open twice in 1953 and 1954.

    Her best results came at Wimbledon where she won three times in 1952, 1953 and 1954 and at the United States Championship where the American was victorious in 1951, 1952 and 1953.

    In all Mo Connolly won nine career grand slam singles titles in four years.

    She also won three grand slam doubles titles, including one in mixed doubles.

    Her dramatic and very short career ended in 1954 when Connolly was involved in an horse-riding accident.

9. Monica Seles: 178 Weeks

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    9. Monica Seles: Yugoslavia and U.S. Ranked No. 1 for 178 Weeks in Total.

    Seles literally burst onto the scene removing women’s tennis from the “sedate” category with her so-called excessive grunting and her obvious joy on court.

    She loved the game and she loved to compete and that became obvious when you watched her play.

    Seles attacked each ball hit at her with all-out aggression, stepping into the court and taking the ball early.  

    She offered a different style of play than that of Steffi Graf, who dominated women’s tennis at the time.

    Seles won nine grand slam championships in singles, winning the Australian Open four times, the French Open three times, and the U.S. Open twice.  

    Seles took over the top spot in women’s tennis for 178 weeks in total with her longest consecutive streak remaining at 91 weeks from September in 1991 until Seles was stabbed in June of 1993. 

    That tragic event certainly cut short a career destined to continue except for the actions of a madman. 

    She left the tour for two years. Once Seles returned, her play was never quite the same.

    Still Seles remains one of the most dominating women in the history of women’s tennis.

8. Martina Hingis: 209 Weeks

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    5 Sep 1997:  Martina Hingis of Switzerland celebrates during her match against Lindsay Davenport of the USA at the US Open at Flushing Meadow in New York, USA.  \ Mandatory Credit: Clive  Brunskill/Allsport
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    8. Martina Hingis: Switzerland - Stayed No. 1 for 209 Weeks in the Late 1990's.

    Martina Hingis from Switzerland had perfect timing.

    She emerged on the scene in women’s tennis becoming the youngest female grand slam champion at age 15.

    Previous dominating players like Steffi Graf and Monica Seles were fading and Martina Navratilova played doubles exclusively in the late 1990's.  

    Hingis set many records at a young age including being the youngest to win the Australian Open Championships in 1997 at age 16.

    She also became the youngest to ascend to the No. 1 ranking in 1997 when she defeated Monica Seles in Key Biscayne.

    Hingis created a game that worked for her with superior court tactics and pinpoint accuracy.

    The Swiss Miss played smart tennis and in the process won five grand slam singles titles and nine titles in doubles. She dominated between 1996-2000.  

    During that time Hingis was ranked world No. 1 for a total of 209 weeks with her longest consecutive streak recorded at 80 weeks.

    Her star did not burn bright for long, but while she blazed her heat was intense.

7. Billie Jean King: 221 Weeks

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    7. Billie Jean King: U.S. Shared No 1 Ranking in 1966, 1967-1968; Shared in 1971, 1972; Shared in 1974 - 221 Weeks.

    American Billie Jean King was the last of the great women tennis pros who dominated primarily before 1975.

    King was World Ranked No. 1 in 1966, sharing the title that year with Brazilian Maria Bueno. She also came back in reign in 1967-1968. 

    In 1971 King scaled the heights again sharing the ranking briefly with Yvonne Goolagong Cawley.

    Reclaiming the No. 1 ranking alone in 1972, King did reach her final spot at the top in 1974, before passing the mantle on to fellow American Chris Evert.

    Evert signaled the beginning  of a new generation of players in the women’s game.

    In total Billie Jean King won 39 career grand slam titles, 12 in singles, 16 in doubles and 11 in mixed doubles.

    She is one of five women having won a career grand slam–winning all four slam singles titles.

    King promoted women’s tennis throughout her career  and the USTA named its facility in Flushing Meadows in her honor, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

6. Chris Evert: 260 Weeks

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    6. Chris Evert: U.S. Ranked No. 1 for a Total of 260 Weeks.

    American Chris Evert reached the top of the women’s game almost as soon as she turned professional–first reaching the No. 1 ranking in 1975 just as the WTA began to calculate and keep track of ranking points. 

    Evert and Martina Navratilova see-sawed back and forth, as one would climb to the top ranking spot and hold it for a time before the other one would reestablish her dominance.

    Evert held the top spot in total 260 weeks with her largest consecutive streak coming in at 113 weeks.

    During her career Evert won 18 grand slam singles titles with her seven slam titles at the French Open a modern record. 

    The American also won the Australian Open twice, Wimbledon three times and the U.S. Open six times. Her six U.S. Open titles is also a modern record Evert holds alone.

    Evert also won three grand slam doubles titles. In all "Chrissie" appeared in 34 grand slam singles finals, again setting a modern record.

    While Navratilova, her constant rival, was filled with emotion on court, Evert remained cool and calm under pressure, earning her the nickname of the “Ice Princess” because nothing ruffled or upset her on the court. 

    Evert became a dominate force in the women's game during the 1970's and 1980's.

5. Suzanne Lenglen: 312 Weeks

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    5. Suzanne Lenglen: France 1921-1926 (6 years) (312 weeks)

    Frenchwoman Lenglen held the No. 1 ranking from 1921 through 1926—in total for 6 years.

    She grew to become a legendary figure in women's tennis during the first half of the 20th Century.

    She won the Wimbledon singles title 6 times in 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925 and the French Open Championship 6 times in 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926.

    Her graceful ballet movements along the baseline and her uncanny accuracy on court made her almost unbeatable.

    Lenglen turned professional in late 1926-1927 before retiring from professional tennis.

    She was the first international star of women's tennis who dominated during the 1920s much as American Bill Tilden on the men's tour.

4. Margaret Court: 325 Weeks

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    4. Margaret Court: Australia No. 1 in 1962-1963; Shared title in 1964; 1965, 1969-1970; 1973 (325 weeks)

    Margaret Court is perhaps the greatest woman ever in the history of the sport, playing most of her career prior to the Open Era in tennis.

    But even during the Open Era, late in her career, Court won a calendar year grand slam in 1970 following Mo Connolly’s feat during 1953.

    Court became the second woman in the history of tennis to win all four grand slams in one calendar year and the first to accomplish it in the Open Era.

    In total Court won 62 career grand slam titles, 24 in singles and 38 in doubles, including 19 in mixed doubles. 

    Her winning percentage in grand slam events stood at a staggering 90.1 percent.

    She was ranked World No. 1 for seven years starting in 1962-1963. She also reached the top spot in 1964, sharing the honor with Maria Bueno. Court rose to No. 1 again in 1965, 1969-1970 and 1973.

    She, too, dominated the women's tour in the 1960's and early 1970's.

3. Martina Navratilova: 332 Weeks

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    3. Martina Navratilova: Czech-American, Ranked No. 1 332 Weeks

    Czech-American Navratilova challenged all comers with her serve and volley style of play. She played aggressive tennis at all times, forcing the action, always seeking the advantage.

    Navratilova held the top spot of women’s professional tennis 332 weeks during her 30-plus year career.  Her longest consecutive record at World No. 1 was 156 weeks.

    Navratilova won 59 career grand slam titles including 18 singles titles, 31 doubles and 10 mixed doubles titles. 

    Remarkably, Navratilova reached the finals at Wimbledon 12 times, winning the championship at the All-England Club nine times in singles. 

    Altogether, Navratilova won 20 titles at Wimbledon which ties her with Billie Jean King.

    The Czech-American excelled in winning, accumulating 167 titles in singles and 177 in doubles. That is a WTA record.

    Her fighting spirit and her love of competition kept Navratilova playing until age 50.

    She dominated during an era of contrasting styles on the tennis courts around the world.

2. Helen Wills Moody: 364 Weeks

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    2. Helen Wills Moody: U.S. 1927-1933 (7 years) 1935, 1938 (Total 9 years)  (Total 364 weeks)

    Helen Wills Moody was the top-ranked female tennis player for seven years from 1927-1933. 

    She again rose to No. 1 in 1935 and again in 1938.

    In total, Moody captured that top spot for nine years.

    During her career the American won the French Open singles title four times in 1928, 1929, 1930 and 1932.

    Moody won the Wimbledon Championship eight times in 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1933, 1935 and 1938. 

    She followed suit by winning her homeland title–the U.S. Open seven times in 1923, 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1931.

    Moody also won nine grand slam doubles titles, three mixed doubles titles and the Olympic Gold Medal in singles and doubles in 1924.

    This tennis phenom dominated the women's game almost a decade.

1. Steffi Graf: 377 Weeks

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    1. Steffi Graf: German, No. 1 for a Total of 377 Weeks.

    German, Steffi Graf, with the dominating groundstrokes, was ranked World No. 1 by the WTA for a total of 377 weeks which included one consecutive period of 186 weeks, a record for the WTA.  

    Graf’s total of 377 weeks also stands as record for any professional player, male or female, for the total number of weeks at No. 1.

    Graf was also holder of the WTA record for finishing the year-end ranked No. 1, eight times.  

    During her long and illustrious career Graf won 107 singles titles, third behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

    Perhaps Graf’s greatest accomplishments came in 1988 when the German won a career golden slam, winning all four majors in 1988 plus the Olympic Gold Medal in Seoul.  

    In all Graf won 22 grand slam singles titles including four at the Australian Open, six French Open titles, seven Wimbledon titles and five U.S. Open titles. 

    This places the German second only to Australian Margaret Court who owns 24 singles titles.

    Graf's overall winning percentage at slam events stands at 89 percent.

    Her game allowed Graf to dominate on all surfaces utilizing a fierce forehand, a wicked slice plus deceptive speed and footwork.


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