Tennis has been transformed over the last five decades by TV, money, technology, equipment, fashion and politics. But through all of that, the players have remained at the heart of the game. As part of our golden anniversary celebration of the Open era, Tennis.com presents its list of 50 best players—the Top 25 men and the Top 25 women—of the last 50 years. You'll be able to view the entire list in the March/April issue of TENNIS Magazine.
(Note: Only singles results were considered; any player who won a major title during the Open era had his or her entire career evaluated; all statistics are through the 2018 Australian Open.)
21. Amelie Mauresmo
Years played: 1993–2009
Major titles: 2 (2006 Australian Open; 2006 Wimbledon)
Amelie Mauresmo’s most lasting achievements didn’t happen until 2006, but she can be seen as one of the last champions of the 20th century. Her one-handed backhand and smooth net-rushing attack made her a throwback, and a favorite of traditionalist fans.
Yet in other ways, Mauresmo was a progressive figure. In the midst of her first significant result, her run to the 1999 Australian Open final at age 19, the Frenchwoman announced that she was gay, and chalked up her success at that event to the fact that she had come to terms with her sexuality. When her opponent in the final, Martina Hingis, called her “half a man,” Mauresmo found herself at the center of an unwelcome media storm. While Mauresmo would lose to Hingis in that final, she would beat her later that year, and in 2006 would win her first major title in Melbourne.
Mauresmo was initially inspired to pick up a racquet after watching—what else?—Yannick Noah win the 1983 French Open, and she kept his attacking style alive in her own game. Mauresmo mixed strength and delicacy, power and touch; she could come over her one-hander with pace, or make it bite with slice when she followed it to net.
Her most notable weakness wasn’t in her strokes; it was in her nerves. At the French Open, she struggled to live up to the home fans’ pressure, and failed to make it past the quarterfinals even once in 15 tries. Her game was better suited to grass, but at Wimbledon she lost close semifinal matches to Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport despite holding leads in both. But just when Mauresmo was on the verge of being dubbed the best player never to win a major, she won two in 2006. The first came when Justine Henin retired in their Australian Open final; the second came in much finer style, with a three-set win over Henin.
Mauresmo herself, like her game, seemed to fade out just as she entered the spotlight. After conquering her nerves, winning two majors, and reaching No. 1 in 2006, she never made it past the fourth round at a major again. But after retiring in 2009, she would show her progressive side once more when she returned to help Andy Murray kick his stalled career back into gear in 2015. Mauresmo’s old-fashioned game and philosophy transcended not just eras, but genders, too.
Defining Moment: In the 2006 Wimbledon final, Mauresmo came back from a set down to beat Henin 6-4 in the third. For the Frenchwoman, it was a triumph over her opponent as well as her own nerves, which had overwhelmed her on Center Court in the past. For fans, the match felt like a requiem for an all-court style that was vanishing even as it was being beautifully performed.
Watch: Mauresmo trains Murray before Wimbledon in 2014