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.)
Years played: 1995—
Major titles: 23*
Serena Williams has said that she has trouble recalling a time in her youth when she wasn’t holding a tennis racquet. “I just remember playing all the time. It’s like tennis was always there, like going to services at [church]. Like breathing.”
According to Serena, the way she looked at the world and related to other people was formed during the hours that her family spent playing tennis on those cracked courts in Compton, CA, that they made famous. It was there that she first developed the fearsome forehand and best-in-history serve that made her a Grand Slam champion by the age of 17.
Just as important, it was on those cracked courts that Serena first developed the intense, sibling-inspired drive to win that remains the deepest secret to her success at age 35. In her big sister Venus, Serena had an idol, an inspiration, a protector, someone to catch up to, and ultimately someone to surpass.
Their father, Richard, believed early on that Serena would be the better of the two, but even he was probably surprised by how quickly his prophecy came to pass. In 1999, in her first major final, Serena beat the world No. 1 Martina Hingis—the woman who had beaten Venus the day before—in straight sets. With that victory, Serena knew right away that she was a champion, and that she should never settle for anything less. By the time she was 19, she was No. 1 and on her way to winning four majors in a row—the first of her two Serena Slams.
Court Report: Serena Williams scheduled to play Indian Wells