Serena Williams. Billie Jean King. Suzanne Lenglen. Martina Navratilova. Stacey Allaster.
All the above are synonymous with women’s tennis and each have contributed to taking the game to new heights. So, to celebrate International Women’s Day, we decided to take a look at what makes them five of the most influential women in our sport.
A 23-time Grand Slam champion, Serena Williams is quite simply a phenomenon. Since turning professional in October 1995, the American has claimed seven Australian Opens, three French Opens, seven Wimbledon titles and six US Opens, holding all four simultaneously on two occasions (2003-04 and 2014-15). Her list of records and achievements is quite simply staggering, while her dominance on-court is nothing short of breath-taking. What’s more, Williams, who is also a three-time Rogers Cup winner, transcends tennis in a way very few athletes do in sport. Not just flying the flag for black women of all backgrounds in a sport historically associated with affluent white players, but dominating that sport to such an extent that she is widely considered the greatest ever is an incredible achievement.
With 39 Grand Slam titles to her name, Billie Jean King would be on this list for her stunning record as a player alone. But her ground-breaking contribution off the court is what makes her even more of an influential figure in the women’s game. A strong advocate for gender-equality, King has long been a pioneer for social justice. She took part and won the famous ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match against Bobby Riggs, an event which was turned into a Hollywood movie starring Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs. She also founded the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), the principal organizing body of women’s professional tennis that governs the WTA Tour.
Widely-acknowledged as the first female tennis celebrity and one of the first international female sport stars, Suzanne Lenglen won 31 Championship titles over the course of the 1910s and 1920s, including six Wimbledon crowns. In 1926 she became the first professional female tennis player when she was paid $50,000 by entrepreneur Charles C. Pyle to tour the United States alongside Mary K. Browne. The duo faced each other 38 times across the country with Lenglen winning all 38. It marked the first time a women’s match was the headline event of a tour which also featured male players. What an achievement!
A three-time Rogers Cup champion in singles and five-time winner in doubles, Martina Navratilova is another of the most influential women in tennis of all time. Having held the World No. 1 spot in singles for total of 332 weeks and 237 weeks in doubles, she is the only player in history to have held the top spot in both for over 200 weeks. An 18-time Grand Slam singles champion, Navratilova also won a record 31 doubles majors over a playing career which lasted over 30 years and was ranked in the world’s top 10 for 20 consecutive years, from 1975 to 1994. In doubles action, Navratilova and her partner Pam Shriver won 109 consecutive matches including all four major titles, the doubles Grand Slam, in 1984.
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Stacey Allaster grew up to become one of the most powerful and influential women in all of tennis, without hitting a single ball as a professional. She began her career as a coach at her local club before working for the Ontario Tennis Association after graduating university. From there, Allaster went onto work at none other than Tennis Canada, as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing and Tournament Director of the Rogers Cup. In January 2006, she was appointed President of the Women’s Tennis Association, which was a newly-created position. Just three years later, she was made chairman and CEO of the WTA Tour, which she served as until her retirement in 2015. What an inspiration!