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Women Who Shaped the World of Tennis
Tuesday, 11/21/2023
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The world of tennis has certainly witnessed the rise of extraordinary women who, through their skill, resilience and determination, have left their own mark on the sport - on and off the courts. From those women who stood up and defied societal norms to the more recent champions breaking records, these women have all helped to shape the history of tennis 
That’s why here, we are celebrating some of those truly iconic figures  - who have not only been incredible on the court but also paved the way for future women players.
Billie Jean King - The Fight For Equality
We have to start off with Billie Jean King - who was a true trailblazer and one of the most famous advocates for gender equality. She really is a legend in the world of tennis. Born in 1943, King won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 singles titles but, in reality, her impact transcends the trophies.
In 1973, King participated in the historic Battle of the Sexe" match against Bobby Riggs and this high-stakes exhibition match was so much more than just a sporting event… it became a cultural milestone inspiring a movie. King's victory shattered stereotypes and truly showed the capabilities of women in sports.
Off the court, she also fought for equal prize money for men and women in tennis which led to the establishment of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) in 1973. To this day, her legacy as a champion of gender equality is still recognized and the fight still goes on. Sadly, there is still a long way to go as, according to CBS News, last year, the Financial Times reported that outside the majors, men's players still earned roughly 75% more than their female counterparts.
Margaret Court - A True Superstar
Next, there’s Margaret Court, an Australian tennis legend, who dominated the sport during the 1960s and 1970s. Her incredible career earned her many different titles, including an outstanding 24 Grand Slam singles victories… a record that stood for decades. Court's versatile playing style and her mental toughness were unrivaled and she dominated across all court surfaces - in both singles and doubles events.
Her achievements are many… she won 11 Australian Open singles titles, five French Opens, three Wimbledon titles and five US Open victories. But that’s not all - she also won an incredible 21 Grand Slam women's doubles titles and 19 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. According to Statista, she is considered the most successful female tennis player ever.
Beyond her undeniable athletic prowess, her contributions to the sport went beyond playing… naturally, she went into coaching and community involvement. There have been many players who have dominated the tennis courts, but none quite like the great Margaret Court.
Serena Williams: A Modern-Day Legend
Any modern fans of the game will expect to see Serena Williams on the list… who eclipsed her very successful older sister Venus and is now considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time - and she has redefined the sport in the 21st century. Born in 1981, she has won an astonishing 23 Grand Slam singles titles, tying the record for the most in the Open Era.
Beyond her unparalleled success on the court, this is a woman who has become a symbol of resilience and ‘girl power’. Her journey to the very highest echelons of tennis has faced plenty of obstacles and challenges. However, Williams never wavered in her determination. As a woman of colour in what had been a predominantly white sport, she became an inspiration for aspiring athletes from all different cultural backgrounds. Although you won’t see her name dominating tennis betting odds today - as she retired in 2022, she is very much still in the limelight.
These days, she is revered as a fashion icon, a philanthropist and an entrepreneur, making herself a name as a real cultural icon beyond the world of sports.
Martina Navratilova: A Tennis Maverick
Martina Navratilova, a left-handed tennis genius from what was Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), was a real game-changer with her incredible skills and versatility. She was born in 1956 and has a career that boasts 18 Grand Slam singles titles and 31 doubles titles.
What really sets Navratilova apart from other successful female tennis players is her success in both singles and doubles -  showcasing her impressive range on the court. Off the court, she became a very vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights after coming out as gay in the 1980s.
Her impact on tennis culture can’t be overstated. With her aggressive style of play, net-charging approach and slap-you-round-the-face authenticity, she has left a real mark on the sport And now, as a coach, commentator and author, she still contributes to sport.
Althea Gibson: Breaking Racial Barriers
Going back even further, we have Althea Gibson, born in 1927, who made history as the first African-American woman to win a Grand Slam title. Whilst Williams has done a lot for the racial diversity in the sport, Gibson started it all. Her achievements stretch way beyond the tennis court… She was a true pioneer who set the ball rolling to shatter racial barriers in a segregated sport.
In 1956, Gibson won the French Championships, becoming the first black player – male or female – to win a Grand Slam singles title. She followed this up with victories at Wimbledon and the (as was then) U.S. Nationals - now the U.S. Open. It was her success that opened doors for future generations of black tennis players and paved the way for more diversity in the sport.
Steffi Graf
Although there are many more we could mention, the last name on our list is Steffi Graf, a German tennis sensation, who was the biggest name in female tennis during the 1980s and 1990s. Known for her incredible athleticism and pitch-perfect baseline play, her career showcased her exceptional agility and deadly forehand.
During her career, she achieved 22 Grand Slam singles titles - including seven Wimbledon titles, six French Opens, five US Opens and four Australian Opens. However, her dominance went beyond Grand Slams and she was one of the few players to secure a calendar-year Golden Slam in 1988… winning all four majors and the Olympic gold medal.
Unsurprisingly, she enjoyed 377 weeks as the World No. 1 player, which was a record in the Open Era until it was surpassed by Serena Williams and her retirement in 1999 marked the end of an era.
Tennis is full of incredible and powerful women. These women have become icons on and off the court - and have paved the way for some of the incredible women who are continuing to dominate the tennis world.