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Who is the greatest women's tennis player in the open era?

Adnan Akhtar
Modified 19 Sep 2015, 21:41 IST
Williams Navratilova Graf GOAT Women
The Greatest Of All Time – Williams, Navratilova and Graf are among the best the sport of tennis has ever seen

Ever since any sport has been played, fans have been motivated to find out who is the greatest player of all time. Whether it be the debate between Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar on the cricket field or the debate between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in soccer. In any case, each player has his own strengths and weaknesses and depending on which you rate higher stands as the “Greatest All Time Player” (G.O.A.T) in the eyes of sports fans. 

Tennis hasn’t been left behind in this race as connoissuers debate about the greatest men’s singles player with the Nadal, Federer and Djokovic camps rooting for their respective player. With the recent run of form by Serena Williams, fans have started to question who is the greatest women’s tennis player of all time.

That leads us to the question: What is it that defines the greatest player of all time? One would be the number of majors won, the other would be longevity in the game along with results representing the country and time at the top of the game. Agreed that there is no clear cut manner of determining the winner, I have made an attempt to list the parameters that I think are important for the greatest player and then figure out who would be the greatest all time women’s tennis player.

For comparison, I have chosen the players with the highest grand slam titles in the open era i.e. Steffi Graff, Serena Williams, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Margaret Court having not won most of her titles in the open era was not considered for analysis and in no way diminishes the 24 major winning feat by the Australian. 

Looking at the infographic, let us compare the players based on each parameter:

GOAT Women's tennis - Infogram, charts & infographics

1) Grand Slam titles (Location):

Winning a major on different surfaces and conditions highlights the adaptability of the player and ranks as the major parameter to judge the greatest player. The record for most number of Australian Open titles belong to Serena Williams with Chris Evert sharing the top spot with Serena for trophies in New York City. The record for the French and Wimbledon titles is held by Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova respectively. While Steffi Graff despite not holding a record for most titles at a grand slam venue has won titles at all the majors and ranks among the top players to win at the corresponding slam.


If points were to be assigned based on Grand Slam titles (with 4 being the highest points and 1 lowest): Steffi Graff = 4, Serena Williams = 3, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova = 1.5 each.

2) Grand Slam titles (Diversity of surface):

If the surface of play was considered as a parameter, Serena Williams takes the lion share of wins on hard court grand slam tournaments with 12 majors to her name. Chris Evert with 12 majors on clay and Martina Navratilova with 12 grand slams on grass lead the rankings on those surfaces.

Assigning points for each surface:

Grass: Martina Navratilova = 4, Steffi Graff = 3, Serena Williams = 2, Chris Evert = 1

Clay: Chris Evert = 4, Steffi Graff = 3, Serena Williams = 2, Martina Navratilova = 1

Hard: Serena Williams = 4, Steffi Graff = 3, Martina Navratilova = 2, Chris Evert = 1

Total: Steffi Graff = 9, Serena Williams = 8, Martina Navratilova = 7, Chris Evert = 6

For both grand slam titles by surface and location, Steffi Graff leads the others with her titles and wins on different surfaces.


3) Weeks at the Top (World Number 1)

Another parameter to take into account is the number of weeks at world number 1. Graff leads with 377 weeks at the top, followed by Navratilova on 332 and Evert and Williams on 260 and 259 weeks. With Williams set to pass Evert’s record this year, I would rate her higher than the 18-time grand slam winner.

Points: Steffi Graff = 4, Martina Navratilova = 3, Serena Williams = 2, Chris Evert = 1.

4) Tour titles (Singles, doubles and mixed doubles)

The versatility of a player is also eminent from the titles won playing different roles on court, whether it be as a singles player or teaming up to play doubles or mixed doubles. In this comparison, Navratilova wins the contest hands down with a record number of titles in singles and doubles.

Points: Martina Navratilova = 4, Chris Evert = 3, Steffi Graff = 2, Serena Williams = 1

5) Representing the Country:

The ability of a player to deliver for her country is another factor which contributes to the greatness of the player. Fed Cup titles would be a good measure to determine a player’s record for her country. With tennis being included in the Olympics only in 1988, I guess it would not be a fair comparison as the likes of Navratilova and Evert did not have a fair chance to win a medal in their prime years.

Points: Chris Evert = 4, Martina Navratilova = 3, Steffi Graff = 2, Serena Williams = 1

And the best women’s player of all time is...

Combining the points from the different parameters: Steffi Graff = 21, Martina Navratilova = 18.5, Chris Evert = 15.5, Serena Williams = 15

Looking at the factors, Steffi Graff wins the contest with her all round performance on different surfaces and locations. Her open era record of 22 grand slams is pivotal in her being one of the best singles players to ever grace the game of tennis. On the other hand with doubles and tour titles, Navratilova stands out as the most versatile player ever to play the game adapted to singles and doubles with a grand slam title at the age of 50. Evert is undoubtedly the best player on clay while Williams has a tremendous record on the hard courts.


We may have the greatest player from this analysis, however each of these players are great in their own right and will always remain in the annals of tennis history for generations to come.

Note: Stats updated till 14th September 2015


Published 08 Mar 2017, 17:09 IST
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