Since the inception of the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) in 1973, women’s tennis has been a force in professional sports. It all started with tennis great, Billie Jean King and 8 other women who decided to change the course of the sport. The original 9, as they were named, fought for better tournaments and prize money. It’s due to their efforts that the sport is so popular today.
Women’s tennis is an exciting sport. Full of top level athleticism, grace, edge of your seat anticipation for what the next serve will bring, and often a bit of drama. Most of all, it is the embodiment of female strength, stamina, and perseverance. The United States is fortunate enough to call many of the world’s top players their own.
Keep reading for a list of the 10 best American female tennis players of all time.
1. Serena Williams
Serena Jameka Williams was born on September 26, 1981 in Saginaw, Michigan. When she was 9, she moved with her family (including fellow tennis great and sister Venus) to Florida. It was here she became serious about her sport. She turned pro at the age of 14 under the tutelage of her coach and father Richard.
During her career (from which she retired in 2022), she was ranked number 1 by the WTA for a total of 319 weeks. Including a record setting 186 weeks in a row. She won 23 Grand Slam titles. This was the most by and female player in the open era and the 2nd most of all time. She won so many back to back Grand Slams that these types of victories are now called the “Serena Slam.”
Ms. Williams’s career record stands at 858 wins and 156 losses. Her Grand Slam titles include:
- US Open: 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014
- Wimbelton: 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016
- French Open: 2002, 2013, 2014
Serena competed in the 2000, 2008, and 2012 Olympics, taking home gold medals from each one. The prize money she has amassed stands at an incredible $94.8 million, more than any other female player.
In 2022, Serena Williams retired from professional tennis to spend time with her family and pursue her business ventures.
Martina Navratilova was born in Prague, Czech Republic on October 18,1956. Navratilova turned pro in 1974. She began playing for the United States in 1975 after requesting political asylum and became a US citizen soon after.
Over the course of her career, she won 69 titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles tournaments. The most combined tournament titles than any other player in the open era. Her career singles record stands at 1442 wins and 219 losses. She has 167 career titles including:
- US Open: 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987
- Wimbelton: 1978, 1979,1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990
- French Open: 1982, 1984
Navratolova was ranked number one for 332 weeks in singles and 237 weeks in doubles. She is one of only 3 players to have won Grand Slams in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. She is considered the best player of all time to have played all three match types.
Just before her 50th birthday (and retirement), Martina won her final title in mixed doubles. Today, she works on continuing to make sure women have equal opportunities in sports.
3. Helen Willis
Helen Willis was born on October 6, 1905 in Fremont, California. She was known as the “queen of the courts” and the “Garbo of tennis”, for her trailblazing style. The first to wear a visor and wear a skirt above her calf, she was also a premium athlete. In fact, her Wimbledon streak of 8 wins went unbroken until Martina Navratilova won her 9th in 1990.
Willis had a career record of 398 wins and 35 losses. She won a combined total of 31 Grand Slams including:
- Wimbledon: 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1933,1935, 1938
- US Nationals (pre – US Open): 1923, 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1931
- French Open: 1928, 1929, 1930, 1932
Helen took home 2 gold medals from the Paris Olympics of 1924 and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1959.
4. Venus Williams
Venus Ebony Williams was born on June 17, 1980 in Lynwood, California. She is a former number 1 ranked champion on both the singles and doubles circuit. Often battling her sister Serena for titles, she is regarded alongside her sibling as one of the greatest female tennis players of all time.
Turning pro at age 14, her total prize money is $42.2 million. Her career record stands at 815 wins and 267 losses. Williams has a total of 49 titles, including:
- US Open: 2000, 2001 (singles), 1999 and 2009 (doubles)
- Wimbledon: 2000, 2001,
- French Open: 1999, 2010
She medaled in all 4 Olympics in which she participated. Taking home 4 gold and 1 silver. Venus was the first woman of color to reach a number 1 ranking in the open era and the 2nd of all time, after Althea Gibson. Off the court, Williams is known for conducting tennis clinics for children in low-income areas.
5. Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King was born on November 13, 1943 in Long Beach, California. Turning pro in 1968, King won a total of 39 major titles across the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles courts. Her career record stands at 695 wins and 155 losses.
At age 29, she won the much hyped, iconic “Battle of the Sexes” match against male tennis pro Bobby Riggs. King also founded the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) in 1972. The organization has been instrumental in gaining equal rights and pay for females in the sport. Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1996, the Federation Cup was renamed after her in 2020.
6. Chris Evert
Christine Marie Evert was born on December 21, 1954 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Turning pro in 1972, Evert was known as the “ice princess” because of her tremendous composure, toughness, and elegant style. She was the first woman to use a double-handed backhand. Evert’s career record stands at 1309 wins and 146 losses. She has 157 career titles, including 7 French Opens.
Her famed rivalry with Martina Navratilova during the 1970’s and 80’s had people tuning into tennis that never had previously never had an interest. Chris is ranked as the 5th best female tennis player of the open era.
Upon her retirement in 1989, she became an analyst for ESPN, and has a line of tennis apparel. In 1987, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
7. Althea Gibson
Althea Neale Gibson was born on August 25, 1927 in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Gibson was one of the first black athletes to cross the color barrier in tennis. The first black American to win a Grand Slam title in 1956, she also dominated Wimbledon and the US Nationals the following year. In total, Althea won 11 Grand Slam titles including:
- US National: 1957 and 1958
- Wimbledon: 1957 and 1958
- French Open: 1956
In the 1960’s, Gibson turned her athletic skills to golf. She again became a trailblazer in that sport as well, becoming the 1st woman of color to compete on the pro circuit in that sport. After her retirement, Ms. Gibson worked with Pepsi Co. to bring portable nets and equipment to underprivileged areas, ran clinics, and coached.
8. Jennifer Capriati
Jennifer Capriati was born on March 29, 1976 in New York City. Capriati turned pro at age 13 and reached the semi-finals of the French open that same year. Soon after, she was ranked in the top 10. Jennifer remains the youngest female tennis player to achieve such a feat. Her career stats are 430 wins and 176 losses and she has 14 titles. In 1992, she won a gold medal in the Barcelona Olympics.
She took a break in her later teenage years when she struggled with the pressure that professional tennis can bring, especially on young people. Eventually, she returned to top form and won several titles until a series of injuries forced her to retire in 2004. Her total prize money was $10.2 million. Jennifer was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012.
It is because of Capriati that the WTA formed regulations to protect young girls from the stressors of professional tennis. The major change was the age for full time professional playing eligibility was changed to 16.
9. Lindsay Davenport
Lindsay Davenport was born on June 8,2976 in Palos Verdes, California. Turning pro in 1993, she was ranked number 1 for a total of 98 weeks. Davenport’s career record stands at 753 wins and 194 losses. She won over 55 titles, including wins at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Lindsay won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. She is ranked as the 8th all time best American tennis. Davenport’s total prize earnings are $22.1 million. She was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2014.
10. Tracy Austin
Tracy Austin was born on December 12, 1962 in Palos Verdes, California. Turning pro in 1978 at the age of 15, she remains the youngest player to win the US Open at age 16. Over her career, which was cut short by an auto accident, she accumulated 335 wins and 90 losses. Tracy won 30 titles and made it to the semi-finals of Wimbleton and the US Open numerous times throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Her career prize money was $2.1 million. After her retirement, she was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992. Since retiring, she has worked as a commentator for NBC and USA networks.
You can also read:
- The 10 Best Russian Tennis Players of All-Time
- 20 Greatest Female Tennis Players Of All Time
- Why Female Tennis Players Wear Skirts