Greatest Female Tennis Player of All-Time? Martina Navratilova

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Martina Navratilova

Career: 1975-1994

Total Singles Major Titles: 18

Wimbledon: 9

US Open: 4

French Open: 2

Australian Open: 3

Doubles Major Titles: 41 (31 women’s, 10 mixed)

Career Singles Titles: 167

#1 in the World: 5 years (1982-1986), 332 weeks

This is one in a series looking at the greatest female tennis players of all time, you can catch up by reading about Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Helen Mills, and Maureen Connolly.

She was born Martina Subertova in the Soviet bloc of Czechoslovakia in 1956. Her father left her mother when she was a young child and her mother remarried Mirek Navratil. Mirek would introduce Martina to tennis and be her first coach. Martina was very close with her step-father and eventually took his last name while adding the female distinction to become Martina Navratilova.

In 1972, at 15 she won the Czechoslovakia Nation Tennis Championship. This win launched her into the international scene. In 1975 she turned pro, and later that year she defected to the United States and in 1981 she became and American citizen. But her tennis career was much slower to start than most of the other athletes we have discussed, although first Major win was a mixed-doubles at the French Open with Ivan Molina in 1974.

It is impossible to talk about Martina’s career without discussing Chrissy. Chrissy was a teen sensation, winning Majors and taking the tennis world by storm. Martina was eating McDonalds and trying to figure out life in the United States without her family.

But the later half of both of their careers was owned by Martina. Her first Major Singles Title came in 1978 at 21 years old at Wimbledon. She would win Wimbledon again the following year. Martina owned Wimbledon in the 1980s. She won it six years straight from 1982 to 1987. She won the most prestigious Major 9 times, more than any of the women we have discussed (Helen Mills won it 8 times). Wimbledon was half of her 18 Majors, she had 3 wins in Australia and two at the French. The US Open was her last Major to win to earn the Career Grand Slam when she won it in 1983. She would win it another three times before retiring from Singles in 1994.


Her main rival was Evert and it was one of the greatest rivalries in tennis. Navratilova and Evert faced off 80 times and Navratilova held the slight edge of 43-37. They faced each other in 61 finals, in which Evert led 36-25. Who really was the better player between the two?

Navratilova also had a rivalry with Steffi Graf since their careers overlapped a bit. Like with Evert, she was at the end of her career while Graf was in her prime. They met in six Major finals and Graf won four of them.

Where does Martina Navratilova Rank?

Navratilova versus Maureen Connolly: Connolly has an accolade Navratilova doesn’t: the Calendar Year Grand Slam. But Connolly’s 9 total Majors is not enough to put her ahead of Navratilova’s 18. Navratilova is better.

Navratilova versus Billie Jean King: This is an interesting comparison since both are very good doubles players. Neither King nor Navratilova have the Calendar Grand Slam. King has 12 Majors to Martina’s 18.

Navratilova was a better player.

Navratilova versus Helen Wills: Wills has 19 Majors and Navratilova has 18. Navratilova won Wimbledon nine times; Wills won it eight. Wills never played Australia, but she won every Major she entered from 1927-1932. She won the French, Wimbledon, and US Open in 1928 and 1929. Wills was #1 in the world for nine years to Navratilova’s five. Navratilova did have a great rival while Wills was robbed of a worthy rival because the game still rewarded amateurism.

What really separates Navratilova from Wills is Navratilova’s doubles play. Their individual success is quite equal. But Martina won 41 doubles Majors to Wills’ 12, though of course in Wills’ day women didn’t have careers as long. Navratilova won her last mixed-doubles Grand Slam title in 2006 when she was 49. Navratilova was the better player.

Navratilova versus Chris Evert: Who was the better player? It’s been a conversation going on for 40 years now. Though Evert had the early success most acknowledge Navratilova was better.

Navratilova versus Margaret Court: Individually, Margaret Court’s 24 Majors outshine Navratilova’s 18. Other than Wimbledon, Court has a better record at the other three Majors, winning the US Open five times to Navratilova’s four. At the French Open, Court won five titles to Navratilova’s 2. Of course, Navratilova won Wimbledon a record nine times, but how does that rank against Court’s also impressive 11 Australian Opens? Navratilova’s Wimbledons are probably more impressive since even in Navratilova’s time the Australian was seen as the fourth of the Majors and many still didn’t play in it consistently.

Court won the Calendar Grand Slam in 1970. Court too had a worthy rival in Billie Jean King, but it was completely lopsided compared to Navratilova and Evert’s rivalry.

Even Navratilova’s impressive doubles record doesn’t outshine Court. Court won 40 Doubles titles in her 17-year career. It took Navratilova 31 years to get 41. Court’s doubles record is more impressive.

Margaret Court is the better player.

Greatest Players of All-Time (discussed so far):

  1. Margaret Court
  2. Martina Navratilova
  3. Chris Evert
  4. Helen Wills
  5. Billie Jean King
  6. Maureen Connolly

Still to be discussed:

  • Monica Seles
  • Stefi Graf
  • Venus Williams
  • Serena Williams

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