By winning the US Open, Serena Williams nailed down the honor, in our view, of being the best women's tennis player ever.
One simple reason for this: close your eyes and try to imagine anyone else on our top 10 list, including sister Venus, beating her consistently. We can not. She has unmatched power in her serves and groundstrokes; Surprising swiftness; Deftness at the net and willingness to go there, born from the skills required in her seven Grand Slam doubles championships with Venus; And unsurpassed ruthlessness in the clutch.
Turning 27 in September, if she wants to win more Slams, sure she will. Her practice of playing few tournaments every year has allowed her to recover from injuries and minimize the ones she might incur from her heavy-hitting, almost violent style.
Here's our top 10, with the numbers in parentheses representing Grand Slam wins and runnersup.
1. Serena Williams (9,3). Stocky and not huge at 5-foot-9, you've never dreamed she was an elite tennis player. But once she steps on the court … look out. She has won three Australian Opens, one French, two Wimbledons and three US In perhaps her most astounding performance, she directed a top-notch foe, Maria Sharapova … six inches taller than her … 6-1, 6-2 , In just 63 minutes to win the 2007 Australian.
2. Steffi Graf (22,9). Comparing her against her top compatriots … she beat Navratilova twice at the 1988 (when Graf was 19 and Navratilova only 31 and still in her prime) and '89 Wimbledon finals … then beat her in the '89 US Open finals. .. not to mention having done so in the 1987 French finals. Graf then had quite the rivalry with Monica Seles but was 10-5 lifetime against her and 3-2 in 1991-93 when Seles rule at No. 1. She is the only person to achieve the "Golden Slam" … all four Slam events plus Olympic gold, which she took in 1988 in Seoul.
Martina Navratilova (18,14). Her superlatives are numerous … most Wimbledon singles titles (nine), most Grand Slam doubles titles (an astonishing 31), most singles titles (167), longest winning streak (74). She holds the longevity record, too, playing competitively until she was almost 50 … bowing out at Wimbledon in 2006.
4. Venus Williams (7,6). She is the modern ruler of Wimbledon (five crowns) but her failure to win the Australian or French (runnerup at both once) put her down the list a bit. At 6-foot-1, she holds the tour record (tied with Serena) of 129 mph for fastest serve ever. It almost seems she turns it on when she feels like it … ie, she has a career losing record to Lindsay Davenport (13-14) but beat her in three finals. Her one nemesis was Martina Hingis (10-11) including a Slam finals loss but in her other five Slam second places, she lost to Serena … meaning she unduably would have won more without her sister in the field.
5. Chris Evert (18,16). World No. 1 for six years, her 34 appearances in Grand Slam finals are a record that almost certainly will never be broken. With her pioneering two-handed backhand and cool demeanor, she flourished on all surfaces, winning two Australians, seven French, three Wimbledons and six US Opens. She also completed a marriage trimecta, tying the knot with three athletes of three nationalities and three sports … British tennis player John Lloyd, American Olympic skier Andy Mill and Australian golfer Greg Norman.
6. Maureen Connolly (9,0). She won three successful US championships (1951-53) and Wimbledons (1952-54). She entered nine Slams and won them all. Then a horse riding accident in 1954 that wrecked her leg at age 19 ended her career.
7. Monica Seles (9,4). What might have been … after being stabbed in the back at age 19 by a deranged fan in 1993, Seles never quite recovered though she won the Australian Open and achieved three other finals. Before that, she had dominated with a streak of wins in seven of nine Grand Slam events. She is known for her unique style of hitting two-fisted on her forehand as well as backhand … and for setting a trend of loud grunting. While she appeared small on the court, at 5-10 she was actually taller than Graf (5-9) and Navratilova (5-7).
8. Margaret Court (24.5). For sheer numbers, no one can top Court's 24 championships from 1960-73 although 11 of those were Aussie Open titles when it was not an elite tournament. But five wins at the French, three at Wimbledon and five at the US stamp her greatness … as does taking the Grand Slam in 1970. She's in this slot and Billie Jean King is below for one reason … Court beat her in Finals four times.
9. Billie Jean King (12.6). King was the queen of Wimbledon, winning a tournament record 20 titles (six singles, 10 doubles, four mixed) … Navratilova subequently tied that one. The ultimate jockette, she also won 16 Slam doubles and 11 Slam mixed doubles. Whew!
10. Helen Wills Moody (19,3). She racked up all her Slams at Wimbledon (eight), the US Open (seven) and the French (four) without ever trying the Australian. America's first big female tennis star, from 1927 to 1932, she did not miss a set in singles anywhere.