Women’s tennis players dominate current lists of the top paid female athletes. They are some of the most popular and well-known athletes and hail from across the world. This is nothing new. In the early 20th century tennis was one of the first sports that saw women become globally recognized superstars.
Tennis was first created in the 19th century in England and was normally played at country clubs by the elite. It quickly spread and the first version of the French Open was played in the 1890s. The sport remains immensely popular today and has become much more accessible in many parts of the world thanks to public courts and programs. The biggest current stars like Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Naomi Osaka are household names and rack in winnings and endorsement deals on a colossal scale. Several tennis players make the list of the 40 must successful athletes of the 21st century.
The racket sport has also been a big avenue for athletes to break barriers and call injustices to light. Several of the women on this list blazed the trail for female athletics and inspired future generations. Many have taken on issues of inequality and racial and gender-based discrimination through a variety of ways, some quite head on like Billie Jean King. A lot of this impact has resonated far beyond the tennis court and athletics. For more women excelling in male-dominated areas, check out the most influential women in history of science.
To determine the most successful women’s tennis players of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed ESPN’s list of Women’s Singles Grand Slam Title Winners. Events that were not open to all competitors were not considered.