The women’s tennis game is subject to regular scrutiny: it is not exciting any more, it is dominated by one or two personalities and the same people are always winning. There is also always the constant debate of playing fewer sets while getting equal money and there are arguments to support both sides. Accusations of substandard quality compared to ‘our day’ are a little unfair and there are some exciting players coming through the ranks. Let’s take a look at some of the greatest of the past and today:
1. Martina Navratilova
Perhaps the biggest name in women’s Tennis, born in what used to be Czechoslovakia. She is widely considered the greatest female player ever to have graced the court. She won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, an unprecedented 31 doubles titles and won Wimbledon ladies singles titles nine times (so far an unsurpassed record). In 1975 she was stripped of her Czech citizenship after asking the USA for political asylum. This was restored in 2008 but she did not give up her US citizenship, maintaining dual nationality.
2. Maria Sharapova
It seems as though she has been around forever but this multi time winner of Wimbledon is considered one of Russia’s greatest ever players. Under criticism because of the grunting she exerts when playing, Sharapova has a very powerful swing. Also know for a modelling career and a range of cosmetics, the Sharapova brand will be around for a long time to come yet and who knows how many more world titles will follow for this woman who is ranked at number three in the world.
3. Virginia Wade
Wade is famous for being the only British woman (so far) to have won titles at all four Grand Slam tournaments – three singles and multiple doubles with Margaret Court. She is also the last British woman to have won the ladies singles at Wimbledon. The year was 1977 and it was also the centenary year of the prestigious competition as well as Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee year. Wade went on to coach and is now part of the BBC commentary team for Tennis.
4. Serena Williams
It seems there was a time when nobody could touch the Williams sisters in the ladies game and the dominance bounced back and forward between the two for several years. Most people have a favourite and though her sister Venus was the first to break onto the world stage, it is arguably Serena that has been the more successful player throughout their respective careers. World Number One on no less than six occasions, she is the oldest woman ever to be the top ranked player and has won Olympic gold on four occasions.
5. Billie-Jean King
Considered the greatest American player that ever lived, winning heaps of awards and trophies across a wide variety of tournaments, King dominated the 1970s at what is considered the golden age of Tennis for both genders. Known for advocating equal rights in the game, King is also known for her match against the former male champion Bobby Riggs which she won. Riggs was 55 and King was 29 at the time. King had her supporters and personal critics alike within the sport but her talent was never in doubt.
6. Chris Evert
Another giant of the 1970s, Evert was the World Number 1 ranked player practically every year through that decade. Of the 56 Grand Slams she entered, she reached the semi-finals or later at 52 of them. She won the French Open seven times and the US Open six times ‘ both records to date are unsurpassed. She was also for many years Martina Navratilova’s doubles partner and the pair went on to claim many joint titles despite having a fierce singles rivalry.
7. Steffi Graf
Without doubt the greatest German player ever to grace the court. Her achievements were astounding including the ‘Golden Slam’ in 1988 ‘ this means that she won all four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic Gold during the course of the year. She dominated the game for a decade and retired in 1999 while still ranked number 3 in the world citing that she felt she had ‘nothing left to accomplish’ in Tennis. Graf won Wimbledon seven times and was ranked World Number One for a consecutive 186 weeks.
8. Laura Robson
A definite up and coming player, Robson was the first British female winner of any singles event for a long time in 2008 when at the age of 14 she won Junior Wimbledon. Inevitably, since then the weight of the British press has been on her shoulders. She is a phenomenal player and has taken a few high profile scalps in her career so far, including Maria Kirilenko at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships. She won silver at the 2012 Olympics mixed doubles with her partner Andy Murray.
9. Monica Seles
The Yugoslav player was a domineering force of the 1990s and early 2000s who surprisingly retired as recently as 2008 (though her last professional match came in 2003). She won nine Grand Slam singles title in her career and was the youngest ever French Open Champion at the age of 16. She is unfortunately most famous for a stabbing incident in 1993 in which an obsessive fan of Steffi Graf leapt onto the court and stabbed Seles in the back. Monica would not return to competitive play for another two years and would later speak openly about the bout of depression that followed.
10. Caroline Wozniacki
The first Scandinavian woman to be ranked World Number One (something she held for over 60 weeks), Wozniacki is considered one of the greatest tactical players currently in the game. She is well known for a defensive style and a quick eye for a counter attack that she can use to her advantage in surprising her opponent. Aged just 22 at Wimbledon 2013, though yet to win a Grand Slam Wozniacki, has a great future ahead of her.
The women’s Tennis game is often called ‘stagnant’ and while it is true that some of the big names above were often unchallenged, without any true dominant talent at the moment we could argue that it is about to open up into a new era with all of the excitement of the men’s game. Will there be a clear powerhouse to win Wimbledon every year for the next 5-10 years as there was in the past?