For more than a century, tennis has been arguably the most lucrative professional sport for women athletes. Its players have become international heroes and icons, all while raking in millions of dollars for doing what they love in front of rapt audiences.
In that time, some women have separated themselves from the pack of amazing players the game has given us, becoming true legends of the sport. Based on what they did on the court, here are the best women’s tennis players in history.
25. Caroline Wozniaki
When Caroline Wozniaki walked away from professional tennis in 2020, at the age of 29, she left behind one of the best careers the game has seen in recent memory. Among the Danish superstar’s accomplishments were 30 WTA singles titles and a remarkable 71 weeks spent as the world’s top-ranked women’s tennis players, which is the ninth most in history. Unfortunately, Wozniaki only won a single Grand Slam tournament, the 2018 Australian Open, which is the only thing keeping her from soaring higher on this list.
24. Simona Halep
Arguably the best player in tennis today, Simona Halep has been a pro player since 2006 but started to really dominate the game in the past few years. In 2018 and 2019, Halep won her first two Grand Slam singles titles and also reached the finals at the Australian Open in the former year. The 64 weeks this Romanian has spent atop the WTA rankings are the 10th most in history, but we have a feeling she’ll be adding to that total.
23. Victoria Azarenka
Like Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka has won a pair of Grand Slam singles titles and 20 career WTA singles titles — but she also has a couple more impressive trophies on her shelf at home in Belarus. Azarenka won two Grand Slam mixed doubles championships as well, in 2007 and 2008, before winning those singles crowns in 2012 and 2013. Azarenka, who was ruling the game at that time, has also spent 51 total weeks atop the WTA rankings.
22. Jennifer Capriati
The first American on our list, Jennifer Capriati was a major presence in women’s tennis in the 1990s and early 2000s before nagging injuries cut her career short at its peak. The native New Yorker won three Grand Slam singles titles from 2001-2002, including back-to-back Australian Opens. Nearly a decade before that run of dominance, Capriati won a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in singles play at the age of 16. She retired in 2004, just a couple years after she was the game’s hottest player.
21. Molla Mallory
The oldest player on our list, Molla Mallory is still the most dominant player in the history of the U.S. Open, nearly a century after she last won a crown there. The Norway native won a record eight U.S. Open championships between 1915 and 1926. On top of that impressive run, Mallory also won a pair of Grand Slam women’s doubles titles and three Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, making her easily one of the greatest players of her era.
Granted, that era wasn’t nearly as competitive as today’s game, but you can only play who you’re pitted against — and Mallory dominated the players she met.
20. Suzanne Lenglen
Another player from the earliest days of high-level women’s tennis, Suzanne Lenglen might be the only one who was better than Molla Mallory in that era. The French player became a massive international star, which was unheard of for a woman athlete at that time, winning eight Grand Slam singles titles from 1919-1926. Those titles include six Wimbledon crowns and two French Opens, where the host stadium now has a court named for her and a statue of her likeness.
Throw in Lenglen’s eight Grand Slam women’s doubles titles and five Grand Slam mixed doubles titles and you’ve got an elite legacy.
19. Maria Bueno
When you’re widely considered the best tennis player from an entire continent, you know you were remarkable. Maria Bueno is the most accomplished player to ever come from South America, and she was one of the game’s premier players in the 1960s. The Brazilian won seven Grand Slam singles titles, including four U.S. Opens and three Wimbledon titles. Bueno won another 12 Grand Slam crowns in doubles and mixed doubles, including all four in 1960, giving her a trophy room that would make any tennis player jealous.
18. Lindsay Davenport
California native Lindsay Davenport has done something only four other women in tennis history have done: finish four different years as the world’s top-ranked player. All five of them are on this list, and Davenport also deserves a place because of the 98 total weeks she spent as the game’s top player. At the turn of the millennium, Davenport was one of the hottest players around, winning three Grand Slam singles titles from 1998 to 2000. Before that, she won the gold medal in singles play at the 1996 Olympics and added three Grand Slam doubles crowns to her tally.
17. Doris Hart
Missouri’s Doris Hart is part of an elite club of tennis players, being one of only three in history to win singles, doubles and mixed doubles championships at all four Grand Slam tournaments in her career. That so-called “Boxed Set” of titles accounts for 35 total Grand Slam championships she won, including six in singles play. Hart was one of the game’s biggest stars in the 1950s and remains one of the most esteemed of the amateur era.
16. Maria Sharapova
Russian superstar Maria Sharapova’s five Grand Slam singles titles are impressive, but it’s her bank account that will really blow your mind. In the history of the WTA, only two other women — both named Williams — have earned more money from tennis tournaments than Sharapova, who cleared more than $38 million from 2001-2020. That total was helped by the fact that she won 36 career WTA singles titles and the career Grand Slam, which she completed in 2012 and she’s still the most recent woman to do so.
Her retirement in 2020 marked a huge loss for tennis in the form of one of its best and most recognizable players ever.
15. Kim Clijsters
From 2005-2011, Kim Clijsters was a regular on the Grand Slam scene, winning four of those singles tournaments in that span, including three U.S. Opens. She also appeared in the finals at two French Opens in the early part of her career, meaning she easily could’ve been even more monumental. The Belgian also won two Grand Slam doubles crowns and three Tour Finals tournaments.
Clijsters was as dominant as anyone in the game’s Open Era (since 1968), with her 41 career singles titles ranking her 14th in WTA history.
14. Justine Henin
A fellow Belgian, Justine Henin’s career peaked at roughly the same time as Kim Clijsters’, putting their country on top of the world in the mid-2000s. Henin won seven Grand Slam singles titles, which is the eighth-best haul in the Open Era, from 2003-2007. She was only a Wimbledon crown away from the elusive career Grand Slam, a tournament at which she made the finals twice.
Henin also won an Olympic gold in singles play in 2004 and won the Tour Finals twice. Her 117 total weeks atop the ATP rankings are the seventh most in history.
13. Virginia Wade
One of Britain’s most beloved tennis stars, Virginia Wade was at the top of the world when she won Wimbledon in 1977, while Queen Elizabeth was in attendance. That would be the last of Wade’s three Grand Slam singles titles in a career that also included four Grand Slam doubles crowns that she picked up in the mid-1970s. While Wade didn’t win as many Grand Slams as others on this list, she won more total tournaments than just about any of them.
In fact, her 55 career singles titles put her near the top of this list and her 839 singles match wins is the fourth most in the Open Era, putting her ahead of both of the Williams sisters.
12. Helen Wills
In the wake of Suzanne Lenglen becoming the biggest star to come out of women’s tennis, Helen Wills arguably surpassed her accomplishments and fame. America’s first major star in the sport, Wills won a mind-blowing 19 Grand Slam singles titles from 1923-1938, a span of years that is much longer than many players ever have success at the sport’s most elite level. The eight Wimbledon and seven U.S. Open titles won by the California native put her at second all time for both tournaments.
On top of all those singles victories, Wills won another 12 Grand Slam championships in doubles and mixed doubles.
11. Maureen Connolly
Perhaps the saddest story of a brilliant career cut short in women’s tennis history is that of Maureen Connolly. “Little Mo,” as she was affectionately known, became America’s sweetheart during the 1950s, when she won nine Grand Slam singles titles as a teenager. Connolly’s run of dominance included winning six consecutive Grand Slam titles from 1952-1953 and completing the career Grand Slam at the age of 18, which is still the youngest age at which any player has done that.
Connolly was forced to retire in 1955 at the age of 20 after a horseback riding incident left her leg injured. She would end up dying at the age of 34 after battling cancer.
10. Martina Hingis
Like Maureen Connelly, Switzerland’s Martina Hingis was a tennis powerhouse at a young age, winning her first Grand Slam doubles title at the age of 15 and her first Grand Slam singles title at the age of 16, both of which were historic. Hingis would end up winning five such singles crowns from 1997-1999 to go along with another 20 Grand Slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles. In 1997, Hingis won the Australian Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon and made it to the finals at the French Open, falling just short of the calendar and career Grand Slam while battling some of the game’s greatest players.
Hingis is unquestionably one of the all-time masters of doubles tennis, but she also won 43 total singles titles, including two Tour Finals crowns.
9. Evonne Goolagong Cawley
Australia has given the world some brilliant tennis players, and Evonne Goolagong Cawley belongs near the top of that list. She was one of the game’s most dominant figures in the 1970s, winning seven Grand Slam singles titles from 1971-1980, which is the eighth-best total in the Open Era. Those wins included four at her home tournament, the Australian Open. The only Grand Slam tournament she failed to win was the U.S. Open, where she made the finals an agonizing four times.
Those wins don’t even include Cawley’s seven Grand Slam doubles and mixed doubles crowns, her two Tour Finals wins and her total of 86 WTA singles championships, which is more than Serena Williams has won.
8. Venus Williams
While her career has been unfairly overshadowed by that of her younger sister, Venus Williams has left a mark in women’s tennis that is unrivaled by nearly anyone. From 2000-2008, she won seven Grand Slam singles titles, including five at Wimbledon, where she’s one of the most dominant champions ever. But Williams’ greatness is amplified when you throw in her 16 combined Grand Slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles, as well as her four Olympic gold medals, including one for singles play in 2000.
She’s showed a remarkable level of longevity in a sport that’s notorious for burning athletes out young, making the Australian Open finals as recently as 2017 and racking up more purse money than any player in WTA history that isn’t her sister.
7. Monica Seles
Monica Seles was as dominant as any player in women’s tennis in the early 1990s, but her career ends up as another tragic case of what could’ve been. The Yugoslavian superstar won eight Grand Slam singles titles from 1990-1993 but was stabbed by a spectator at a tournament in 1993, bringing an awful end to her run at the top. Incredibly, Seles would win another Grand Slam crown at the 1996 Australian Open, but it would be her last, and most tennis experts think she could’ve won countless more if not for the attack.
Adding to Seles’ impressive career figures are three consecutive Tour Finals wins from 1990-1992 and 178 weeks atop the WTA rankings, which is the sixth-highest total ever.
6. Billie Jean King
The infamous “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973 made Billie Jean King a pop-culture icon, but her entire career on the court makes her an immortal in tennis lore. The California native won a remarkable 12 Grand Slam singles titles from 1966-1975, adding her to the elite list of seven women to have ever won at least 10 of those crowns. She won all four of the Grand Slam tournaments at least once, including six titles at Wimbledon.
When you throw in her 27 additional Grand Slam doubles and mixed doubles championships, you’ve got a legacy rivaled by few players of any sex.
5. Chris Evert
Few players have been able to dominate a single playing surface like Chris Evert did on clay, with her seven French Open crowns still standing as the all-time record for women. But the Florida native was far from a one-trick pony, winning 18 total Grand Slam singles titles in her remarkable career, including at least two crowns at all four of the elite tournaments. Evert went a remarkable 13 consecutive years, from 1974-1986, with at least one Grand Slam singles championship.
Her winning wasn’t limited to those situations though, as Evert’s mind-boggling 1,309 singles match wins are the second most in the Open Era, surpassed only by her arch-rival, Martina Navratilova.
4. Steffi Graf
The most dominant player of the great decade for women’s tennis that was the 1990s, Germany’s Steffi Graf was a constant figure holding up trophies after the world’s biggest tournaments. She won 22 Grand Slam singles titles from 1987-1999, including at least four crowns at all four of the tournaments, making her one of the best all-around players regardless of surface or situation. Graf spent an incredible 377 weeks as the WTA’s top-ranked player, which is the most ever by nearly an entire year.
Her 1988 season alone is the stuff of legend, with Graf winning all four Grand Slam singles championships and the gold medal at the Olympics in singles play, making her the only player to ever do all of that in one year.
3. Martina Navratilova
We’re splitting hairs at this point, but we chose to rank Martina Navratilova ahead of Chris Evert and Steffi Graf because of her remarkable longevity in the sport and her sheer amount of victories. The Czechoslovakia native won an incredible 59 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles from 1974-2006. Among those crowns were 18 singles championships, including a record nine at Wimbledon, making her the greatest champion at what is arguably the sport’s most respected event.
Navratilova won a total of 1,442 singles matches in her career, which are the most in the Open Era. In 1983, she had what is still the most dominant single season in WTA history, going 86-1 in singles play, winning 98.9% of her matches.
2. Margaret Court
Critics will knock Margaret Court a bit for playing in an era that wasn’t as tough as today’s game, but her dominance during that period shows she was an absolute master who never took a match lightly. She won an incredible 64 total Grand Slam crowns in singles, doubles and mixed doubles from 1960-1975, torching the record books in the process. Court’s 24 Grand Slam singles championships is still the all-time mark and includes a remarkable 11 wins at her home tournament, the Australian Open.
To put Court’s run at the top into perspective, she won 192 career singles titles, which is 119 more than Serena Williams at this point.
1. Serena Williams
While she doesn’t rank at the top of any all-time records lists, she’s near the top of all of them, and for her unmatched influence on the culture of the sport, Serena Williams has to take the crown as the best ever in women’s tennis. Her 23 Grand Slam singles titles, earned between 1999 and 2017, are second only to Margaret Court, but the fact that Williams won them in arguably the game’s most competitive era gives her the edge. She’s won another 16 Grand Slam crowns in doubles and mixed doubles and has also won four Olympic gold medals and five Tour Finals tournaments.
Money isn’t everything but it further tells the story of Williams’ dominance, as her $92.7 million in career winnings is by far the highest total in WTA history. And she’s not even done yet.