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The Evolution of Women's Tennis: A Look at 15 Trailblazing Stars over 50 Years
Tuesday, 08/08/2023
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As the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023, it's the perfect time to reflect on some of the most inspirational players who have graced the courts over the past five decades. While there are far too many groundbreaking female tennis stars, here is a look at 15 women who made their mark on the sport's history.
The Battling Frenchwoman
Amelie Mauresmo overcame emotional fragility and years of disappointment to finally break through for two Grand Slam titles in 2006, triumphing at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. The powerful Frenchwoman with the dazzling one-handed backhand was the only player from her nation to reach world No. 1. 
China's Trailblazing Comic
Li Na delighted fans worldwide with her happy persona and comedic press conferences. She smashed barriers as the first Asian-born Grand Slam singles champion and the first player from China to rank No. 1. Her 2011 French Open title opened China as the largest tennis market, with WTA events there swelling from two in 2009 to a tour-leading eight in 2019.
The Matriarch of British Tennis
Judy Murray's contributions to British and women's tennis are enormous. As a player, coach, and mother, the former Judy Erskine has an unparalleled tennis resume. Her sons, Andy and Jamie, have credited her tireless coaching, support, and inspiration for their rise to the top of the men's game. Judy's lifetime of service to tennis was recognized with an OBE in 2017.
Japan's Barrier-Breaking Introvert
Naomi Osaka became the first Asian player to rank No. 1 in singles and expanded tennis' global reach. The biracial superstar with Japanese and Haitian roots inherited Maria Sharapova's mantle as the sport's top endorsement star. Despite fame, Osaka has remained an endearing introvert while boldly speaking out against racial injustice en route to her 2020 US Open win. 

Australia's Humble All-Court Maestro
Ash Barty personified Australia's tennis values - teamwork, sportsmanship, tenacity, and enjoying the journey. After burning out as a teen prodigy, Barty's hiatus and comeback led to three Grand Slam titles and the No. 1 ranking. As the first Aussie singles champion at the Australian Open since 1978, the unassuming Indigenous star unified the nation. True to form, she retired at No. 1 just two months later.

Spain's Feisty Late Bloomer
Arantxa Sánchez Vicario didn't let being overshadowed by teen rivals Monica Seles and Steffi Graf stop her. The Spanish terrier battled her way to four Grand Slam singles titles, and six French Open doubles crowns. In 1994, she completed a career Grand Slam in doubles, winning all four majors with three partners. Sánchez Vicario proved best when backing herself as an underdog, memorably defeating Graf in the 1989 French Open final.
Germany's Artistic Shot-Maker
A true tennis artist, Steffi Graf deployed an athletic blend of power and finesse in winning 22 majors. Her forehand was considered the greatest shot in women's tennis and held the top ranking for a record 377 weeks. Graf completed the Golden Slam in 1988, winning all four majors and Olympic gold. 
Yugoslavia's Tragically Short Reign
Monica Seles exploded onto the scene at age 16, winning eight Grand Slam titles by age 19 with her aggressive baseline power. She met Steffi Graf in a riveting rivalry that peaked with their three-set 1992 French Open final. But in 1993, a deranged Graf fan stabbed Seles during a match, severely impacting her career. Despite the trauma, Seles showed resilience in returning to win the 1996 Australian Open.
Russia's Ice Queen
Maria Sharapova personified power and mental toughness, winning five majors, including a career Slam. She intimidated rivals with her icy glare during explosive baseline slugfests. Sharapova hit the most aces in WTA history, but a 2016 suspension for failing a drug test stalled her career. Regardless, she fought admirably until retiring in early 2020 with lingering shoulder problems.
The Barrier-Breaking Belgian
Justine Henin brought athleticism and variety to counter the power games of Serena and Venus Williams. Despite her petite size, the Belgian dynamo stepped inside the baseline fearlessly to control points with aggressive groundstrokes and net play. Henin won seven majors and an Olympic gold medal before early retirement in 2008.
American Tennis Royalty
What more can be said about the legendary Williams sisters? Venus and Serena took sibling rivalry to new heights, contesting nine major finals. They dominated tennis for 20 years, winning 30 Slam singles titles. After blazing trails for future champions Osaka and Stephens, the sisters keep defying age, still winning matches in their 40s through their shared love for competition.
Even as the sport continues gaining popularity and sports betting odds on the WTA Tour increase, who will join this elite list of pioneers and tennis champions in years to come?