Celebrating influential women in tennis
As part of a celebration of inspiring women, Australian Tennis Magazine listed some of the most influential women in the sport.
As Australian Tennis Magazine celebrates the inspiring women of tennis, we look at 15 of the most influential players – both on and off the court – from the Open era.
Here is a selection of the tennis trailblazers:
BILLIE JEAN KING
Women’s tennis today would look very different without King’s influence. The American was one of the Original Nine, alongside Australians Judy Dalton and Kerry Reid, that fought for pay parity and were instrumental in forming the WTA Tour in the 1970s. King was a standout star on-court too, claiming 12 singles crowns among 40 Grand Slam titles, and broke down barriers as one of the first openly gay women in the sport. King, who retired in 1983, continues to play an influential role as an activist and spokesperson.
The Australian amassed a record Grand Slam haul – winning 64 titles across all disciplines, including an all-time record 24 in singles. She was the first mother to win a Grand Slam title and her dedication to fitness is, arguably, her great legacy. Dubbed ‘The Aussie Amazon’, Court’s love of weights and circuits revolutionised the way women trained. Her strength became her greatest asset, helping her to dominate opponents and set a new benchmark for the fitness levels required for success.
With her ferocious double-handed groundstrokes off both wings, Seles made a loud arrival on tour – literally. Credited for introducing grunting into the women’s game, Seles won a record eight Grand Slam singles titles as a teen. Her career stalled when a spectator attacked her at a tournament in Hamburg. The horrific incident kept her off tour for two years and led to an overhaul of security measures for professional players.
— AusTennisMag (@AusTennisMag) October 4, 2019
The Russian’s popularity propelled her to a celebrity status unseen in the sport. With her arrival coinciding with the emergence of the internet, high-profile endorsements followed as Kournikova became one of the world’s most searched athletes. Her profile overshadowed credible tennis results – which included a career-high singles ranking of No.8 and peaking at No.1 in doubles. Although a back injury forced her into retirement at age 21, she inspired a wave of young players.
Venus Williams’ arrival on tour in the mid-1990s signaled a new era of power tennis. The athletic American has not shied from making political statements throughout her storied career either, raising awareness of racial inequality and helping convince the All England Club to introduce equal prize money at Wimbledon from 2007. Venus’ longevity is now unparalleled. Her 84 Grand Slam singles appearances is an all-time record and she is the only tennis player to win medals at four Olympic Games.
A phenomenal athlete and competitor, Serena Williams owns an Open era-record 23 Grand Slam singles titles. Her powerful game has redefined women’s tennis and her influence extends far beyond the court too. From acting ventures and fashion lines to attending royal weddings and presenting at the Academy Awards, the mother-of-one is one of the world’s highest-profile personalities. She uses that platform to fight for women’s rights and raise awareness of a multitude of causes.
Boasting an endorsement portfolio as impressive as her tennis resume, the commercially-savvy Sharapova led the rise in brand-conscious modern players. A five-time Grand Slam champion and the first Russian woman to achieve a world No.1 ranking, Sharapova has her own confectionary line and has regularly topped the list of the world’s most marketable athletes. Many of today’s players, including Amanda Anisimova and Eugenie Bouchard, admit Sharapova was their childhood idol.
When the popular Chinese player became the first Asian Grand Slam singles champion at Roland Garros in 2011, a record 116 million people watched the match on Chinese television. Tennis has since exploded in Asia – a result of Li Na’s incredible success. Li, who also won the Australian Open in 2014 and became a fan favourite for her quirky personality, became the first Asian-born player inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July this year.
To find out who else made the list, see the October-November edition of Australian Tennis Magazine.