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: 1994–
Major titles: 7*
“I don’t think anyone feels older,” a 36-year-old Venus Williams said at Wimbledon in 2016. “You have this infinity inside you that feels like it could go on forever.”
Williams has done her part to prove the wisdom of her statement, and of her cosmically positive approach to life. She has survived the overwhelming hype surrounding her debut as a 14-year-old, the slow acceptance of her family by the tennis world, the rise of her younger sister to become that family’s best player, an immune-deficiency disease and the everyday aches and pains and injuries that come with age. But 23 years after launching her historic, barrier-breaking career, Venus remains very much in orbit.
There never was a debut quite like hers. As an 11-year-old in 1991, the tall, beaded girl from the wrong side of the tennis tracks had been featured, along with her sidekick Serena, on 60 Minutes. Yet by 1994 few had seen either of the swinging sisters play a match that mattered. Was their father, Richard, who claimed his daughters would be No. 1 and 2 someday, but who kept them from playing junior events, conning the world?
It only took one tournament to find out the answer was a resounding no. At a WTA event in Oakland, Venus dodged the media scrum long enough to win her first match, and then win the first set over world No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. That night, Nike and Reebok came calling. Three years later, Venus was in the US Open final. Three years after that, she became the first African-American woman to win Wimbledon and the US Open since Althea Gibson four decades earlier.