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U.S. Open Tennis: Greatest Lady Champions of the Modern Era

Posted on August 17, 2010 by JA Allen

Great Rivalries built the women's game into a prime spectator sport.

Heading into the 2010 U.S. Open, uncertainty reigns as several of the top seeds are currently sidelined with injuries.

First of all are the reports of Serena Williams’ recovery from foot surgery––leading to speculation that the younger Williams sister may not be fit enough to challenge for the U.S. Open championship.

Additionally will be the absence of Justine Henin with a right elbow injury suffered during a fall at Wimbledon. The pain and suffering could extend perhaps to Venus Williams who has pulled out of both Cincinnati and Montreal with pain in her left knee that prevents her from practicing.

Add to that wounded Russian Maria Sharapova who battled Kim Clijsters in the final in Cincinnati pulling out of the Rogers Cup after twisting her ankle during the match.

The end result is that a clear favorite for being crowned as this year’s champion remains shrouded in doubt––even though the odds seem to favor the younger Williams sister.  Will she notch another win in New York?

As we rate the top U.S. Open champions since 1968 on the women’s side, we look at both the number of final wins plus the number of appearances in U.S. Open finals.  If those are equal we look at the total winning percentages of each player.

Who is the Best Women's U.S. Open Champion of the Modern Era?

  • Chris Evert (28%, 8 Votes)
  • Serena Williams (24%, 7 Votes)
  • Steffi Graf (21%, 6 Votes)
  • Billie Jean King (14%, 4 Votes)
  • Martina Navratilova (7%, 2 Votes)
  • Monica Seles (7%, 2 Votes)
  • Margaret Court (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Venus Williams (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 29

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Note that of all the players, the number of women who have multiple championships at the U.S. Open is few.  Truly it is a very difficult accomplishment––making it to the final of a major and then winning the tournament.

Hingis enjoyed success at the U.S. Open as a teenager.

No. 12  (tie) Martina Hingis (Three U.S. Open Finals, One Win)

Martina Hingis from Switzerland appeared in three consecutive finals at the U.S. Open from 1997––1999, winning one title in 1997.  She is tied with Hana Mandlikova for the number twelve spot on our list of top female U.S. Open Champions.

In 1997 Hingis defeated Venus Williams to win her only U.S. Open championship 6-0, 6-4.  It was an exciting final featuring two teenagers.  In 1998, Hingis lost to American Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 7-5.  In 1999, the Swiss would lose to Serena Williams 6-3, 7-6.

1999 would mark Hingis’ last appearance in the finals of the U.S. Open. Hingis played in ten U.S. Open tournaments leaving with an 82.7 winning percentage.  Once Hingis hit her twenties, her career pretty much ended in terms of winning majors.

Mandlivkova won this title in 1985.

No. 12 (tie) Hana Mandlikova (Three U.S Open Finals, One Win)

Czech Hana Mandlikova appeared in three U.S. Open finals in 1980, 1982, and 1985.  In 1980 she lost during her first attempt to Chris Evert 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.  In 1982, Mandlikova lost again to Evert, this time 6-3, 6-1.  Finally the Czech was able to capture a title in 1985 as she faced Martina Navratilova defeating her 7-6, 1-6, 7-6.  It was a great victory over her countrywoman to win her only U.S. Open title.

In all Mandlikova played in eleven U.S. Open tournaments with an 81.1 total winning percentage (43-10) over her career.  Mandlikova was a great tennis player whose lack of confidence often defeated her more soundly than a true opponent.  Still she ranks on this list of best ever performers at the U.S. Open.

Kim Clijsters of Belgium is the reigning U.S. Open Champion.

No. 10 (tie) Kim Clisters (Three U.S. Open Finals, Two wins)

Clijsters remains tied with Justine Henin at the number 10 spot on our list.  They have both appeared in three finals, winning two.  Like Henin, Clijsters retired and made her comeback starting in 2009.  Remarkably, the young Belgian mother came back to win the U.S. Open––during her first major back from retirement.  Clijsters is the defending champion as the 2010 tournament gets underway.

Clijsters made her first final at the U.S. Open in 2003 where she met and was defeated by countrywoman Justine Henin 7-5, 6-1.  In 2005 Kim Clijsters defeated Mary Pierce for the U.S. Open championship 6-3, 6-1.  Then in last year’s final, Clijsters overcame Dane Caroline Wozniacki to win her second U.S. Open Championship.

Clijsters has played in nine U.S. Open tournaments and holds an 85.7 total winning percentage up to this point.  Still being an active player, Clijsters still has the ability to add to her total.

Unfortunately, Justine Henin of Belgium will be unable to compete in 2010 at the U.S. Open.

No. 10 (tie) Justine Henin (Three U.S. Open Finals, Two wins)

Justine Henin is tied for the number 10 place in our list with countrywoman Kim Clijsters, both having made three appearances in U.S. Open finals, taking away two wins each.  Henin has not played at the U.S. Open since 2007 and it appears she will not be able to compete again in 2010 after taking a fall at Wimbledon that injured her right elbow.

Henin made her first final in 2003 when she defeated her fellow Belgian, Kim Clijsters 7-5, 6-1.  Her second final came in 2006 where she faced and lost to Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4.  The following year in 2007, Henin came back to win against Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 6-3.

Henin has played in nine U.S. Open tournaments with an accumulated 83.3 total winning percentage to date.

In 2008, Henin retired just prior to the French Open and she has not played at the U.S. Open since 2007; but she is back playing again so the Belgian has an opportunity to add to her totals in both appearances and wins.

Austalian Champion Margaret Court's career spans two eras, expanding into the modern era for a brief time.

No. 9 Margaret Court (Three U.S. Open Finals, Three Wins)

Margaret Court whose career spanned both the modern era and the years prior to 1968, has earned the number nine spot in our best ever list with three final appearances and three wins during the modern era.

She won her first U.S. Open championship in the modern era in 1969 by defeating Nancy Richey of the United States 6-2, 6-2.  Court won her second trophy the following year in 1970 over American Rosemary Casals 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.  Both of these victories came on grass.  Her last victory came again on grass as Court defeated fellow Aussie Evonne Goolagong Cawley 7-6, 5-7, 6-2.

Court earned an 85 winning percentage during the Open Era (34-6).  The Aussie also played in 5 U.S. Open tournaments prior to the Open Era, picking up two more titles in 1962 and in 1965.

Court may be the best woman competitor ever to play the game and her 24 slam total will be difficult to equal or pass.

Evonne Goolagong of Australia, made it to four finals, but failed to win one.

No. 8 Evonne Goolagong Cawley (Four U. S. Open Finals, No wins)

Standing all alone in the number eight spot in our list, the Aussie Goolagong made four consecutive finals at the U.S. Open from 1973-1976.  She only played at the U.S. Open six times, her last appearance in 1979.  With an 83.3 winning percentage, Goolagong was impressive for as long as made the trip to play in the Open.

She lost to some very great players on two different surfaces.  In 1973 and 1974, Goolagong lost to Billie Jean King and Margaret Court respectivley on grass and she lost twice to Chris Evert on clay, by far Evert’s best surface in 1975 and 1976.

Goolagong won four Australian Open titles, one French Open Title and Two Wimbledon Titles throughout her career.  Even though she never won the U.S. Open, much like Bjorn Borg on the men’s side, her appearance in four consecutive finals is an impressive feat few other women have accomplished.

Venus Williams has not won in New York since 2001, almost a decade ago.

No. 6 (tie) Venus Williams (Four U.S. Open Finals, Two Wins)

Venus Williams still active on tour along with her sister Serena has an opportunity to add to her impessive totals at the U.S. Open.  Venus is tied with Monica Seles for the the number six slot of greatest ever U.S. Open champions.

The elder Williams sister made her first appearance in a final at the U.S. Open in 1997 where she lost to Swiss Martina Hingis 6-0, 6-4.  It was Williams’ first U.S. Open and she was unseeded, making her the first woman since Pam Shriver to make the final on her first attempt and the first unseeded woman to do so since 1958.  Venus had arrived.

She won her two titles back to back in 2000 and 2001. In 2000 she defeated Lindsay Davenport 6-4, 7-5.  In 2001 she defeated her sister Serena in the final 6-2, 6-4.  In 2002 Venus would again face sister Serena in the final but this time the eldest sister fell short and Serena took the title for her second U.S. Open win.
To date she has played in 11 tournaments at the Open and holds an 85.7 winning percentage. Venus has not made a final at the U.S. Open since 2002 but she still has hope for the future.  She could make a move to increase her standing in this list starting in 2010 at the U.S. Open.

Monica Seles loved playing in New York and winning there.

No. 6 (tie) Monica Seles (Four U.S. Open Finals, Two Wins)

Monica Seles is tied with Venus Williams for the number six place on our list.  Both have appeared in four finals, winning two.  No doubt that Seles’ totals would have greater without the stabbing incident in 1993 that interrupted the Yogoslavian’s career for over two years.

Seles was the No. 1 ranked player in the world when she was stabbed and she never regained the same confidence or fire once she came back in 1995.  It was a real tragedy for Seles and for the tour.

The young Seles defeated Martina Navratilova 7-6, 6-1, in 1991 for her first U.S. Open Championship. In 1992, Seles repeated her winning ways this time defeating Spaniard Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 6-3, 6-3.  It would prove to be her last championship in New York, a city that she admittedly loved.

Seles did not reappear at the open until 1995, skipping the event until then.  She reached the final but lost to Steffi Graf  7-6, 0-6, 6-3.  In 1996, Seles lost to Graf again 7-5, 6-4.  It would be her last final at the U.S. Open.

Seles played at 12 U.S. Open tournaments starting in 1989 and ending in 2002.  She compiled an 82.1 winning percentage (53-10) throughout her career.

Seles remained competitive throughout her playing days but her mental edge was never the same after the stabbing in 1993.  Who knows how high she might be on our list of greatest ever U.S. Open champions without that tragedy.  Even so she ranks number six on our list.

Serena Williams won the trophy back in 2008. Questions remain about her ability to compete in 2010.

No. 4 (tie) Serena Williams (Four U.S. Open Finals,  Three Wins)

Serena Williams as an active player can certainly add to her totals.  To date she remains tied with Billie Jean King at the No. 4 spot on our list of greatest ever U.S. Open Champions of the modern era.  As such, Serena has appeared in four finals, winning three of them.

Her first title came in 1999 and it was Serena’s first ever grand slam victory at the age of 17.  She defeated the No. 1 seed Martin Hingis to claim her first title.  In 2001 she once again reached the final but lost to her older sister Venus Williams 6-2, 6-4.  It was the elder sister’s second title at the U.S. Open.

Serena’s next championship came in 2002 when she turned the tables to defeat sister Venus 6-4, 6-2.  Serena’s last championship to date came in 2008 when she defeated the No. 2 seed Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 7-5.

Last year in a controversial call over a foot fault, a penalty point imposed against the younger Williams sister cost her the semifinal match she was playing against Belgian Kim Clijsters.

In 2010, Serena Williams has had surgery on her foot since winning the Wimbledon title and no one is quite sure whether she will be on hand to compete for the U.S. Open title as action gets underway.  The younger Williams sister certainly has the time and talent to add to her totals at the U.S. Open before she hangs up her rackets.  No doubt, Serena will do just that.

Billie Jean King competed on many different U.S. Open surfaces, including grass.

No. 4 (tie) Billie Jean King (Four U.S. Open finals, Three wins)

Billie Jean King and Serena Williams are tied for the No. 4 spot in our list of greatest U.S. Open champions.  King’s career, of course, spans both the open era and the preceding era in women’s tennis.  This listing speaks only of the open era in women’s tennis.  So even though King has ownership of four U.S. Open titles, only three count in the open era which began in 1968.

In 1968 King played for the championship against Virginia Wade, losing that encounter 6-4, 6-2.  But King did triumph in 1971, 1972 and 1974.  In 1971 King defeated Rosemary Casals 6-4, 7-6.  The following year In 1972 the American defeated Australian Kerry Melville Reid 6-3, 7-5.  Her final win came against another Aussie Evonne Goolagong Cawley 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

King played in 9 U.S. Open tournaments in the modern era with an 82.35 winning percentage (42-9).  She also played in 9 additional tournaments before the modern era where she won one title in 1967 against Ann Haydon Jones 11-9, 6-4.

There is no one who personifies the U.S. Open more than the renowned Billie Jean King whose name appears over the tennis complex now housed in Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York.  King has done more to advance the women’s game and create equality for women in the sport than any other sports figure.

Martina Navratilova competed often in the finals of the U.S. Open during the 1980s.

No. 3 Martina Navratilove (Eight U.S. Open Finals, Four Wins)

Martina Navratilova won the U.S. Open twice consecutively in singles in 1983-1984 and then again in 1986-1987.  She appeared in eight finals and won half of them.  Her total winning percentage remains at 83.86 (89-17).  Navratilova played in 21 U.S. Open tournaments in singles, her first in 1973 and her last in 1993.

She won her first championship in 1983 against Chris Evert, winning 6-1, 6-3.  The following year, the Czech won again against Evert 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.  In 1986 Navratilova defeated Helena Sukova 6-3, 6-2 to win the title. The next year she defeated Steffi Graf to capture her last U.S. Open trophy 7-6, 6-1.

Navratilova also appeared in four finals she did not win, her first in 1981 when she lost to Tracy Austin 1-6, 7-6, 7-6.  That was a very difficult loss to accept.  The Czech lost to Hana Mandikova 7-6, 1-6, 7-6 in 1985.  Navratilova never quit trying to win.

In 1989 she lost to one of the next generation of superstars, Steffi Graf 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.  Her last appearance in a final occurred in 1991where she lost to Monica Seles 7-6, 6-1.

Navratilova’s serve and volley style of play served her best on the grass courts of Wimbledon but she was still a force to be reckoned with regardless the surface because the Czech never brought less than her best to play that day. No one wished to look across the net and see Martina on the other side because it meant you had your work cut out for you to win on the afternoon.

Navratilova stands out as one of the greatest women ever to play the sport and she ranks very high on our list of the greatest U.S. Open champions.

Seffi Graf won the U.S. Open Championship five times.

No. 2 Steffi Graf (Eight U.S. Open Finals, Five Wins)

Steffi Graf won five of her eight final appearances at the U.Sl Open with an 87.95 winning percentage (73-10).  Graf won her first title in 1988, the year of her “golden” slam and her last title at the U.S. Open in 1996.

In 1988 Graf defeated Argentine Gabriella Sabatini who melted many hearts with her dark good looks.  It was a hard fought victory with the German emerging victorious 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.  The following year in 1989, Graf defeated Martina Natratilova 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 to earn her second U.S. Open title.  In 1990 Graf lost to Sabatina 6-2, 7-6 for the Arentine’s only trophy in New York.

Graf did not win again at the Open until 1993 seizing her third title against Helena Sukova 6-3, 6-3.  In 1994 the German made the final but lost to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 1-6, 7-6, 6-4.  Sanchez Vicario and Graf met often during this time with Graf usually the victor but not on this occasion.

Graf would win two more Open finals in 1995 and 1996, defeating Monica Seles both times first 7-6, 0-6, 6-3 then in 1996 7-5, 6-4.  After 1996, Graf would not appear in another final in New York.

Graf dominated with her powerful forehand and dictated play by pushing the action with her inside-out drive and her tremendous foot speed and her ability to get to any ball.  Her backhand was also a weapon she used consistently employing a deadly slice.  It was almost impossible to get anything but the most accurate shots by Graf.

Graf will always be ranked as one of the greatest female tennis players of all time and her winning efforts at the U.S. Open make her one its greatest champions.

Chris Evert is the best, appearing in nine finals and winning six U.S. Open trophies.

No. 1 Chris Evert (9 U.S. Open finals, Six Wins)

Chris Evert stands all alone at the top of the women’s game with 6 wins at the U.S. Open, winning four consecutive titles from 1975-1978. She also appeared in six consecutive finals from 1975-1980.  She never finished worse than a quarterfinal appearance during 19 appearances at the U.S. Open. In the modern era Evert stands alone with the most victories at the U.S. Open where she holds an 89.3 winning percentage (108-13).

Evert played at the U.S. Open 19 times, beginning in 1971 with her last appearance in 1989. She played her first U.S. Open at age 16 and her last at age 34. Evert’s presence at the U.S. Open and her rivalry with Martina Navratilova added to the appeal of the women’s game as it struggled for recognition against the more popular men’s field.

In 1975 Chris Evert won her first U.S. Open Championship defeating Aussie Evonne Goolagong 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 at the age of 20.  The next year Evert defeated Goolagong again 6-3, 6-0 for the title.  This one was a little easier than her first.

The next year, 1977, the American defeated another Aussie, Wendy Turnbull 7-6, 6-2 for the ladies championship.  It was Evert’s third consecutive win.  To mark her fourth consecutive championship, Evert took out fellow American Pam Shriver on the final Saturday 7-6, 6-4.

In 1979, Evert would lose in the final to American teenager Tracy Austin 6-4, 6-3. But Chrissie would bounce back to regain the title in 1980 defeating Hana Mandilkova of Czechoslovkia 5-6, 6-1, 6-1.

Evert won her last title in 1982, deafeating Czech Hana Mandlikova 6-3, 6-1. She would make the finals twice more in 1983 and 1984 but Chrissie’s reign of finals ended as she lost to Natratilova.

Her steel resolve to win and her unflappable concentration allowed Evert to rule the U.S. Open during the late seventies and early eighties.  No one has surpassed her totals on Louis Armstrong and Arthur Ashe Stadiums and it is doubtful that anyone will unless Serena manages five more finals and 2 more championships.  Time will tell.

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