Who are the best women’s tennis players to have ever graced the sport? In this piece below we look at the 21 best women’s tennis stars to have played the game with a special focus on their Grand Slam victories, especially in the Open era.
Winner of six Grand Slam titles, including two at Wimbledon, Sweden’s Stefan Edberg was known for his cool temperament and his serve and volley game. Not to mention, his battles with Boris Becker packed a punch given the contrasting nature of the two players.
Ranked the world number for 72 weeks, Edberg also won the ATP Sportsmanship Award on a record five occasions which resulted in the ATP naming the award after him. A four-time Davis Cup winner, Edberg came close to winning the Career Slam when he made the 1989 French Open final but was surprised by Michael Chang in the title-decider.
That was the only major Edberg did not win but still finished his career with a prize money of more than $20 million.
If Edberg was the ice, Germany’s Boris Becker was the fire. He waltzed on to the scenes with a stunning Wimbledon title win as a 17-year-old and he managed to defend his title the following year.
Becker’s best year at Grand Slams came in 1989 when he won two of his six major titles and reached the semifinal of the third – the French Open, a title he would never win either.
Becker was a lot more than just titles though. His charisma and off-court shenanigans often put him into the limelight and he later went on to coach Novak Djokovic who won six Grand Slams under him as well. The German ended his playing career with $25 million under his belt.
The first ever player in the history of the sport to win all the four majors in the same year, Don Budge ended his career with seven of them and added a further four Pro Slams across three different venues.
From 1939 onward, he became a pro tennis player which meant he couldn’t participate at the Grand Slams but that didn’t mean his game waned by any stretch. Known to have the best backhand in the game of tennis for decades, Budge also won four men’s doubles and four mixed doubles titles in his career.
Jack Crawford, not to be mistaken with the character in Hannibal Lecter series, could have beaten Don Budge’s record of becoming the first tennis player to win all four Grand Slams in a year.
It was in 1933, five years before Budge’s eventual record that Crawford made it to the final at all four Grand Slam tournaments and won three of them – at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. At the US Championships, Crawford led Fred Perry by two sets to one but went down in the final two sets to miss his chance.
That defeat, incidentally, was the first of his four successive losses in Grand Slam finals, and he won just one more Grand Slam after that to end with six in his career. 11 other doubles titles in majors means he makes it to this list.
Great Britain’s Laurence Doherty won 88.5% of his competitive tennis matches, an extraordinary number even for the pre-Open Era days. He also won six Grand Slam titles, including five at Wimbledon but it was that sixth major which caused quite a ruffle.
Doherty lifted the 1903 US Open – or the US National Championships as it was then called – and in doing became the first ever non-American to win that title. In fact in the first 45 editions of the US Open, Doherty was the only non-American winner.
Eight men’s doubles titles at Wimbledon and two more at US Open went rather well with the two golds and a bronze he won at the Olympics too.
Frenchman Henri Cochet won seven Grand Slam singles titles in his amateur career before he turned pro in 1933. There were five men’s doubles and three mixed doubles at majors as well before he turned professional and wasn’t allowed to play Grand Slams any more.
Cochet featured in the French Pro competition in 1936 and won the title there before finishing runnerup in 1937. He was also a semifinalist at the Wembley Pro.
Ranked number one between 1928 and 1931, Cochet returned back as an amateur in 1945 following the war. He played on till 1958, retiring at the age of 56.
That name became a lot bigger after Rene Lacoste’s retirement but it wasn’t as if his tennis career wasn’t resplendent on its own. With seven singles Grand Slam titles including three at his home competition at the French Open, and three in the doubles, Lacoste was also the world’s top player in 1926 and 1927.
Known for his shrewdness on court, Lacoste was known as The Crocodile for the manner in which he dismantled his opponents.
Later, he became famous for kick-starting the Lacoste brand, which manufactured tennis and polo shirts. He used these for his own self even when he played and ran the company for 30 years before his son took over.
Till Andy Murray won the 2013 Wimbledon, Fred Perry was the last Brit to do so in 1936 and retained that record for nearly eight decades. That win was one of his eight Grand Slam titles, all of which he won between 1933 and 1936 before he turned pro.
He went on to capture the 1938 and 1941 US Pro titles as well and six other Grand Slam doubles wins. Before Don Budge scooped up all the Grand Slams in one year, Perry had become the first player ever to win all four Grand Slam titles in his career – or clinch the Career Grand Slam as it’s called. No other Brit has achieved this record.
However, Perry’s exploits weren’t restricted to tennis alone. He won a gold, a silver and two bronze medals while representing England at the World Table Tennis Championships before Perry made the switch over to tennis.
A seven-time Grand Slam winner, Sweden’s Mats Wilander had won four of them before he was 21, becoming the only player to have done so. His winning run began at the 1982 French Open after fellow, legendary Swede Bjorn Borg had suddenly quit his tennis career a few months earlier, and he won a major in each of the next four years.
After a two-year hiatus where he did manage to make it to the final at the French Open and the US Open, Wilander brought up the best year of his Grand Slam career when he lifted three of the four majors in 1988.
With at least two Grand Slam titles on three different surfaces each, Wilander is one of only two players with that record and was also a part of three Swedish teams which won the Davis Cup titles.
While John McEnroe won seven Grand Slam titles, his tennis career was way more than just stats. His persona and his presence on court, filled up stadiums, and while watching McEnroe you always knew something was up around the corner.
Some of the most feisty tennis rivalries were on display during McEnroe’s times and not just because others were in the similar mold. The McEnroe-Borg rivalry, for instance, has a movie made after it. McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were involved in their own, very hard-fought and bitter rivalry which saw McEnroe win 20 of their 34 matches.
With 77 singles and 78 doubles tournament wins to go with his seven Grand Slams, McEnroe is also the highest combined title winner in the Open Era of tennis. Having won his last singles Grand Slam title in 1984, McEnroe continued playing on tour till the early 1990s, and in his penultimate Grand Slam at the 1992 Wimbledon he made it to the semifinal before losing to Andre Agassi.
Andre Agassi made it to 15 Grand Slam finals and won eight of them but his effect on the sport came with his charisma. It was this same persona which meant he opted out of three Wimbledon tournaments, complaining about their rigidity of the rules.
The American also decided not to play in the Australian Open between 1987 and 1994, and later went on to win the title there four times. His 1999 French Open victory meant he became just the second player in the Open Era to win a Career Slam, something that even greats like Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Pete Sampras didn’t achieve.
With more than $31 million in earning, Agassi was one of the highest-paid athletes of his times.
A world number one for 270 weeks, Ivan Lendl is currently fourth in that list of most weeks as the top-ranked player. There were eight Grand Slam titles which helped achieving him that record, to go with 11 other Grand Slam finals.
And while Lendl never won the Wimbledon – even saying grass is for cows – he did come close to doing that twice. On both occasions, however, he lost the final in straight sets. Five tour finals wins punctuated his career as well.
With more than $21 million in prize money, at the time of his retirement he held that record too. Later he went on to successfully coach Andy Murray, helping him through to three Grand Slam titles.
American Jimmy Connors’ rivalry with McEnroe was one of the highlights of tennis in the 1980s and it saw the former come away with eight Grand Slam titles – one more than McEnroe. Over his 23-year long career in which he played Grand Slams, Connors missed the French Open eight times due to a variety of reasons and never made the final on the other occasions he did play.
At the other majors, however, he made it to the final on seven other occasions, but as importantly, won 109 singles in his career. This, at the time of writing, is the most singles wins by any male player. Interestingly he also made it to the final of the 1974 US Open mixed doubles with Chris Evert, a fellow legend herself in women’s tennis, and his fiance at the time.
Earlier, Connors and Evert had won the Wimbledon singles title together as a couple.
After retiring from the sport in 1996, Connors took to commentary and coaching, having been a part of the teams of Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard at different times.
Australia’s Ken Rosewall played through a plethora of phases in his career; there was his Amateur phase before he became a professional in 1956 and then followed it up with the Open era. And in that total period he went on to win eight singles and 10 doubles Grand Slam titles.
Not to mention he also clinched the Wembley Pro on a record five occasions and the French Pro eight times. Interestingly, three of his four Davis Cup titles came between 1953 and 1956 and then 17 years later, he added a fourth.
Unfortunately for Rosewall, he never won the Wimbledon despite making it to the final on four separate occasions spread across 20 years but he still makes it to our legends list.
During his time as an amateur player, USA’s Bill Tilden lifted the trophy at 138 of the 192 competitions he participated in, including 10 Grand Slam titles. Seven of those came at the US Open, a tournament in which he made it to 10 finals – a record Grand Slam men’s singles finalist which remained till 2017.
This doesn’t include the 11 Grand Slam doubles titles he won as well.
After becoming a professional in 1931, Tilden won the US Pro on a couple of occasions, and the French Pro once. He was also a finalist at the Wembley Pro on two separate occasions.
Another Swede in this list, Bjorn Borg’s legend was established as much by his on-court achievements as it was by his retirement. By 26, having won an unprecedented 11 Grand Slams, Borg retired from the sport, much to the shock of most fans.
Six of those titles came at the French Open, including four in a row, and five at Wimbledon – all of them in succession between 1976 and 1980.
He won the Roland-Garros title in 1980, was a losing finalist at Wimbledon and US Open that year and then called it quits. Interestingly, after losing to John McEnroe in the final at his last Grand Slam, he left the court without waiting for the ceremony and took the first flight home.
Australia’s Rod Laver would have probably won way more than his 11 Grand Slam titles had he not been banned by the organizers for becoming a pro just before the Open Era. During that time he went on to three US Pro, four Wembley Pro and one US Pro titles.
Laver, who later had the Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open and the Laver Cup named after him, was also a six-time Grand Slam doubles and three-time mixed doubles winner. He also became the second player to win all four Grand Slams in a year in 1962, and then achieved it a second time seven years later.
His earning of $1.5 million during a period between 1956 and 1977 was easily the best by any tennis player of that era.
With 28 Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles, Australia’s Roy Emerson stands at the peak of the most majors won by a male tennis player. 12 of them came in singles, of which six were won at the Australian Open. The Aussie was first to win those many singles Grand Slam titles.
Emerson completed a career Grand Slam in both, singles and doubles competitions, and was a part of eight Davis Cup wins for Australia as well. In a sports television series by the name of 100 Greatest of All Time made in 2012, Emerson made it to the 17th ‘greatest’ tennis player of all times, with Laver having been named the second-best.
American tennis was in excellent hands in the 1990s thanks to the presence of Pete Sampras who ended his career with 14 Grand Slams (which included two between 2000 and 2002).
And while Sampras didn’t win the French Open – a semifinal in 1996 being his best showing – he finished with $43 million in prize money, making him number one in the list of highest earnings in the sport. In fact, even till 2020, there were only four male tennis players with more prize money – Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray.
Sampras, whose maiden Grand Slam win came at the 1990 US Open, finished his career with another title win at the same competition in 2002.
At the time of writing this, Novak Djokovic has won 17 Grand Slam titles and counting. At the rate at which this Serb is winning titles, he might add a bunch of them before he is through with the game and finish atop of the majors wins count.
Having begun his career a few years after Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had started adding to their Grand Slam count, Djokovic’s first major win came at the 2008 Australian Open. He took three more years to double that, and went on to win three of the four majors that season.
A career slam came at the 2016 French Open, that title having eluded him for years, and after bit of a fitness-related rut over the next eight Grand Slams, Djokovic was back to his winning ways with back to back Wimbledon and Australian Open titles and a US Open win.
Very few players in the history of singles Grand Slams, men or women, have won 12 majors. Rafael Nadal won those many at the French Open alone. And it wouldn’t be too surprising if he added more titles to that tally.
Of course there are other titles too. A career Grand Slam like Djokovic, which came when he won the Wimbledon in 2008 and the Australian Open in 2009. In that period he also won a gold medal at the Olympics but rather surprisingly, Nadal, with a prize money of more than $120 million, has never won the ATP Finals.
Five Davis Cup wins with Spain add the cherry to the top of the 19 Grand Slam wins that Nadal has had till now and while fitness remains a concern for the Spaniard, expect him to add a couple more to that at least.
20 Grand Slam titles.
More than $125 million in prize money.
More than $100 million in endorsements in 2020 alone (highest on the Forbes list of sports persons)
And probably the most-loved tennis player of all time (in close contention is Nadal obviously!)
Roger Federer played in his first Grand Slam in 1999 and at that stage he was in the shadows of Martina Hingis, a fellow Swiss, who had been on a roll in tennis. It took him another four years to win his first major, a Wimbledon triumph and he then went on to add three more the next year.
By the 2010 Australian Open Federer had won 16 majors, including his maiden French Open title the preceding year which helped him complete a career Slam. Following that came a period of struggle where Djokovic and Nadal took over the title-winning duties – save the 2012 Wimbledon – but like a true champion Federer reinvented himself, and came back in 2017-18 to win three more majors.
Liked our list of the best male tennis players? Here’s our list of the best female tennis players of all times.