29 Nov 2007 09:46:20
Calimero
INSIDE TENNIS (USA): Steffi Graf is the greatest female player ever!

INSIDE TENNIS (U.S.)
COVER STORY: APRIL 2005

WHO IS THE GREATEST FEMALE PLAYER EVER?

BY PAUL FEIN (U.S.)

If granted one tennis wish, I'd travel in a time machine and savor a
"dream match" between high-flying divas Suzanne Lenglen and Martina
Navratilova, with all the theatrics that would inevitably ensue. Other
time-travelers might choose a baseline battle between relentless heavy
hitters Helen Wills and Steffi Graf, or an athletic "Big Babe"
showdown featuring Margaret Court against Serena Williams.

Navratilova backers unequivocally select her for the mythical
"greatest ever" title. Proponents of Lenglen and Wills, who had near-
perfect records between the two world wars, also stake their claims.
And how about Court and Graf, the career leaders in Grand Slam titles?

How thoroughly and for how long the great ones dominated their
generations will serve as the overriding criteria for this debate,
with the quality of the opposition also taken into consideration.

To truly dominate, a star must consistently prevail on all surfaces,
and no one did that better than Steffi Graf. Consider this: On her
least productive surface, clay, the fraulein with the fearsome
forehand captured six French Open titles!

Who can forget her dramatic tour de force at Roland Garros in '99? Not
only did Graf become the first Open Era woman to beat the top three
players in the world at the same event -- "Lindsay Davenport, Monica
Seles and Martina Hingis -- "but in a wild 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 final, her
poise and professionalism contrasted sharply with the Swiss teen's
unsporting antics.

Although Graf, a svelte 5-foot-9 blonde, was not a serve-and-volleyer,
she dethroned the ultimate grass court practitioner, Navratilova, at
Wimbledon in '88. Seemingly unstoppable with six straight Wimby
titles, the ex-Czech streaked to a 7-5, 2-0 lead before the equally
athletic Graf whacked winners galore to take the final 5-7, 6-2, 6-1.
Graf's powerful serve and vicious backhand slice complemented her
booming forehand on grass as she racked up seven Wimbledon crowns,
fewer only than Navratilova's nine and Wills' eight.

Graf also amassed nine Grand Slam titles on hard courts, five at the
U.S. Open and four at the Australian Open, making her the only male or
female to win each Slam at least four times.

As much as Navratilova might yearn for the unofficial "greatest ever"
accolade, in '96 she conceded, "Steffi is the best all-around player
of all time, regardless of the surface."

The recurrent back and knee ailments and assorted illnesses that
periodically sidelined the German made the Graf Era all the more
remarkable. Equally injurious was her unstable father, Peter, who
undermined her career in '90 after so skillfully guiding it for years.
Sensational stories revealed his extramarital affair with a call girl
who was trying to extort $400,000. After upset losses at Roland Garros
and Wimbledon, Graf confided, "I could not fight as usual because of
all the turmoil. Tennis is a game won with the head, and lately my
head has not been on tennis." Graf was rocked by another scandal when
Peter was imprisoned for tax evasion while managing her fortune.

Still, in '88, this intense perfectionist pulled off an unprecedented
"Golden Slam": winning all four major titles, plus the Olympic gold
medal. In four other dominant years, '89, '93, '95 and '96, she
captured three Slam crowns each. Her total of 22 majors was more
impressive than Court's record 24, but more about that later.


To clinch my case for Graf as the greatest ever, I submit that she was
ranked No. 1 eight times, No. 2 twice and No. 3 once. During Graf's
'83-'99 career, she faced stellar opposition from Chris Evert,
Navratilova, Seles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Gabriela Sabatini,
Hingis, Davenport and budding stars Venus and Serena Williams.

When Graf's mother Heidi asked her why she never smiled on court, her
fiercely competitive daughter replied, "Would you rather see me smile
or win?" Her grimly stoical demeanor belied Graf's enormous joy.
Announcing that she would continue to play in '99, Steffi confided,
"Tennis is my life. I need the fabulous emotions playing tennis gives
me."

Passion may explain one requisite for greatness, because after winning
her seventh doubles title in '03, Martina Navratilova, 47 years young,
chirped, "I'm so excited about next year I can't stand it."

Martina joined the pro tour at 16, in '73, when rackets were mostly
wood, balls were white, the Australian and U.S. Opens were contested
on grass and Billie Jean whipped Bobby in the "Battle of the Sexes"
that helped ignite the tennis boom. That same year the Women's Tennis
Association was born and a tournament, the U.S. Open, actually offered
equal prize money to men and women. It was an auspicious time for the
very modern Martina to arrive. Two years later, Navratilova
courageously defected from Czechoslovakia to America, where she knew
her prodigious talent could blossom.

By '90 the muscular, 5-foot-8, 145-pound lefty had won 18 Grand Slam
titles. Navratilova might well have collected more had she not skipped
the Aussie and French Opens (which had declined in stature) five times
each in the 1970s.

Nerves sometimes betrayed Martina, however, and she lost a stunning 14
Grand Slam finals. She especially struggled at the U.S. Open, which
she didn't win until her 11th attempt, although she then captured it
four times in five years.

Her glittering resume also boasts three Aussie and two French crowns
and eight WTA Championships, along with a perfect 20-0 record in Fed
Cup play. All told, Navratilova grabbed 167 singles titles, an Open
Era record. She was ranked No. 1 seven times, No. 2 and No. 3 thrice
each.

Blessed with superb hand-eye coordination, strength, reflexes, agility
and speed, Navratilova took the compelling art of serve-and-volleying
to new heights. She and baseliner Evert thrilled crowds for 16 years
with an 80-match rivalry (43-37 for Navratilova), which far surpasses
any other in women's sports history.

Martina revolutionized training methods. The "Bionic Woman," as she
was dubbed, was created in the early '80s by Nancy Lieberman's
punishing conditioning program, Rick Elstein's "reflex training," Mike
Estep's analytical coaching and nutritionist Robert Haas' low-fat,
high-carbohydrate diet and 39 different blood tests a month. When
asked who was the greatest player ever, Graf replied, "For me, she
[Navratilova] is the uncontested No. 1; she has left a mark on the
sport like no one else."

Helen Wills, a Phi Beta Kappa at the University of California, aspired
for something higher than being No. 1 or even dominating her
generation. "I know I would hate life if I were deprived of trying,
hunting, working for some objective within which there lies the beauty
of perfection," she wrote. Ah, elusive perfection. Yet during the
zenith of her brilliant career, from '27 to '32, Wills not only won
every match she played --158 straight -- but also prevailed in every set
to achieve the perfection she coveted.

"Little Miss Poker Face," as she was called by Grantland Rice, showed
her emotions about as often as she lost. Wills captured a phenomenal
19 of the 22 majors she played, plus a then-record eight Wimbledons,
seven U.S. Championships and four French crowns and reached the final
three other times. Had she taken the long boat journey to Australia,
she undoubtedly would have amassed many more majors. "Helen's
expression rarely varied and she always tended strictly to business,"
wrote doubles star George Lott, "but her opponents were never in doubt
as to what she held: an excellent service, a powerful forehand, a
strong backhand, a killer instinct, and no weaknesses. Five of a kind!
Who would want to draw against that kind of hand?"

Certainly not some of her male practice partners. In a hard-fought San
Francisco exhibition against her friend Phil Neer, Wills beat the
former NCAA champion and eighth-ranked American man 6-3, 6-4. The AP,
in its 1950 rankings of the players of the first half-century, put
Wills No. 1 and Suzanne Lenglen No. 2.

While they were not archrivals because they only played once, their
ballyhooed encounter at an otherwise forgettable tournament on the
French Riviera in '26 became a classic. "La Grande Suzanne," in her
prime at 26, triumphed 6-3, 8-6 over the less-experienced college
girl, but not before hundreds of reporters and cameramen and an
overflow crowd filled with distinguished guests witnessed sensational
shotmaking, theatrics and controversy. Ferdinand Tuohy wrote that the
match was "a simple game of tennis, yet a game which made continents
stand still and was the most important sporting event of modern times
exclusively in the hands of the fairer sex."

After the Great War, Lenglen became a national figure, the symbol of
resurgent French pride. Her fiery Gallic temperament combined with her
daring mid-calf skirt and sleeveless dress, colorful bandeaux, gold
bracelet, lipstick (she was the first to wear it on court at
Wimbledon), all-court athleticism and balletic grace made her tennis'
first female superstar. Indeed, the imperious Bill Tilden, a magnetic
figure of the Golden Age of Sports, admitted that Lenglen was the only
player who was a bigger draw than he was.

From '19 to '26, the incomparable Lenglen captured six Wimbledons and
six French titles and, astoundingly, lost only twice in tournaments,
defaults caused by illness. She never played the Australian, but her
sole visit to the U.S. Championships in '21 proved a disaster.
Suffering from bronchitis and coughing, Lenglen lost the first set to
defending champion Molla Mallory and then retired, weeping, with
unsympathetic fans and reporters calling her a quitter.

Lenglen was such a phenomenal performer that the French Davis Cup
committee asked permission to include her on their team. While "the
record" gives a razor-thin edge to Wills over Lenglen, when asked in
'41 who was better, Elizabeth Ryan, the 19-time Wimbledon doubles
champion who played and partnered them both, replied, "Suzanne, of
course. She owned every kind of shot, plus a genius for knowing how
and when to use them." Even Tilden, who never disguised his contempt
for Lenglen, wrote, "For sheer genius and perfect technique, Lenglen
was the greatest woman star of all time."

Purely by the numbers, namely her all-time-record 24 Slam singles
titles, Margaret Smith Court towers above them all. But on closer
inspection, her resume looks less awesome. Eleven of her major titles
were at the Aussie Open, the least prestigious of the "Big Four"
championships. Furthermore, from '60, when "Mighty Maggie" first won
it as a 17-year-old, to her final triumph in '73, the fields were
decidedly weak. Among the elite, Billie Jean King played there only
thrice; Maria Bueno, Virginia Wade, Nancy Richey, Rosie Casals and Ann
Haydon twice; Darlene Hard once.

Nervousness -- King called it the old "el foldo" -- occasionally got the
better of Court, particularly at Wimbledon, which she won "only" three
times. Court, now a lay minister in Perth, once said she would have
won six Wimbledon singles titles "if I'd known ...about the study of
the word of God and the power of it."

Nonetheless, the 5-foot-10, 156-pound Court blended a classic serve-
and-volley game with aggressive groundies to rank No. 1 seven times
and No. 2 twice. She achieved the second women's Grand Slam in '70,
was unbeaten in 20 Fed Cup matches and captured a mind-boggling 194
singles titles. Court's legacy was to pioneer training methods for
women. As a skinny 15-year-old, she left home to train with '50s
champion Frank Sedgman and physical culturist Stan Nicholes and worked
to gain strength and speed by lifting weights, running intense sprints
and doing a wide range of exercises, a first for women players. Noting
the marvelous specimen that Court had become, King visited Sedgman to
copy the grueling regimen. John Newcombe rated Court "undoubtedly the
most athletic woman player I've seen. Stronger than most men."

Extraordinary consistency at a very high level, rather than dominance,
marked the 19-year career of Chris Evert. Unlike Graf, Navratilova,
Wills and Court, she never won three or more Slam crowns in a year.
Evert did, however, win 18 majors, highlighted by seven French and six
U.S. Opens, to tie Navratilova for fourth place. She finished No. 1
five times and No. 2 seven times and notched a gaudy 40-2 Fed Cup
record.

The 5-foot-6 Floridian also parlayed her accurate, error-free-
groundstrokes game into three records that will likely never be
broken: winning at least one Grand Slam title for 13 straight years,
reaching the semis or better in her first 33 majors and winning 125
consecutive matches on clay.

Chris America, our girl-next-door sweetheart, will be remembered for
her riveting rivalry with Navratilova, for her appealing femininity,
and for helping to popularize the two-handed backhand (along with
Connors, her former fiance, and Borg). But Chrissie's most lasting
legacy was impeccable sportsmanship and grace under pressure. A survey
in '91, two years after she retired, revealed that she was the most
recognized athlete (92 percent) among Americans over 13.

On our Top 10 list, Billie Jean King places just behind Evert at No.
7, but she transcended tennis even more. As the 12-year-old daughter
of a Long Beach fireman, she vowed to change a sport she found
elitist, stuffy and discriminatory. She tirelessly led the charge to
create the ground-breaking Virginia Slims Circuit, championed equal
prize money, founded (with her husband, Larry) and became the
commissioner of World TeamTennis, was the first woman to coach a pro
team (the Philadelphia Freedoms) with men and founded and was
president of the Women's Tennis Association.

How the did she find the time, energy and focus to also win 12 Grand
Slam singles titles (plus 27 in doubles), highlighted by six Wimbledon
crowns? Like her good friend Navratilova, King served and volleyed
brilliantly. But King handled pressure far better -- Court praised her
as "the greatest competitor I've ever known." BJK lost only six Slam
finals. Despite a series of knee surgeries, King managed to be ranked
No. 1 five times and No. 2 on four occasions. She also sparked the
U.S. to seven Fed Cup titles, going 26-3 in singles. About her
inextinguishable passion, King once said: "Ask Nureyev to stop
dancing, ask Sinatra to stop singing -- then you can ask me to stop
playing tennis." For changing tennis, the iconic King was named No. 5
on Sports Illustrated's Top 40 Athletes list for the previous 40 years
in '94.


King once said that Maureen Connolly might have smashed all the
records had not a horseback riding accident injured her leg and
prematurely ended her short but sensational career in '54. Who could
argue with that? In '51, Connolly won the U.S. title at 16 and then
remained undefeated at Slams and lost only four matches anywhere.

Dubbed "Little Mo" for her booming and unerring ground strokes -- "a
reference to the big guns of "Big Mo," the battleship Missouri -- the 5-
foot-4 Connolly shot down distinguished champions such as Doris Hart,
Louise Brough, Margaret Osborne duPont and Shirley Fry during her
meteoric reign. She grabbed nine majors, including three each at
Wimbledon and Forest Hills, dropping only one set in those finals.
Connolly joined the immortals in '53 when she became the first woman
to win the Grand Slam.

Like Lenglen, the obsessed Connolly fascinated the public, but was not
as happy as she looked, confiding that "I have always believed
greatness on a tennis court was my destiny, a dark destiny, at times,
where the court became my secret jungle and I, a lonely, fear-stricken
hunter. I was a strange little girl armed with hate, fear, and a
Golden Racket."

Nearly 40 years later, another driven but happier teen queen with
devastating groundies suffered a bitter tragedy in her early prime.
Monica Seles, a rare double-hander on both sides, had taken command of
her exciting rivalry with Graf, beating her in a high-caliber Aussie
Open final in '93 for her eighth Grand Slam crown. Three months later,
during a changeover in Hamburg, a crazed German fan of Graf's stabbed
Seles in the back. While the wound was not life-threatening, the
traumatized Seles did not return to competition for 27 months. She
battled migraine headaches until '97 and was never the same again,
winning only one more major, the '96 Aussie, over a relatively weak
field. Critics contend that Seles stayed away far too long and became
a player who was consistently out of shape. Supporters insist that, if
not for the stabbing, Seles, not Graf, would have ruled the '90s.

Several contenders vie for the No. 10 spot among the all-time greats.
In the late '30s, Alice Marble was the first female to use the serve-
and-volley attack. She won four U.S. titles and a Wimbledon, and would
have won many more had she not been dogged by injuries and illness
(anemia and pleurisy) and had she not turned pro in '40.

Pauline Betz is rarely mentioned on greatest-ever lists, but
cognoscenti know better. Jack Kramer wrote that Betz was the second
best player (after Wills) he'd ever seen. From '42 to '46, the popular
Betz used her splendid backhand, speed, stamina and competitiveness to
capture five Slam titles and was ranked No. 1 four times. After the
USLTA suspended her from amateur play in '47 for merely discussing
professionalism, "Bobbie" topped the pro ranks for seven years.

From the late '50s to the mid '60s, Brazil's Maria Bueno captured four
U.S. and three Wimbledon titles and captivated fans with her sultry
beauty and pretty dresses as much as her stylish strokes.

With a serene temperament and shot-making nonchalance, Aussie Evonne
Goolagong enchanted spectators around the world. A Wiradjuri
Aborigine, the daughter of an itinerant sheep shearer, she won
Wimbledon twice, the Australian four times and Roland Garros once and
reached 11 other major finals from '71 to '80.

An African-American also from humble beginnings, Serena Williams gets
my vote for the No. 10 spot. At 23, immensely talented and powerful,
Serena has already won two Wimbledons, two U.S. Opens, two Australians
and a French title for a "career" Grand Slam. As King said, "Serena's
got great body strength, she has a strong mind. There's no weakness,
really. Forehand, backhand, serve. She's very fluid. She's got
everything."

(c) 2005 INSIDE TENNIS All rights reserved.



Max


29 Nov 2007 15:37:21
Re: INSIDE TENNIS (USA):Graf /KNIFE is NOT the greatest female player

On Nov 29, 12:46 pm, Calimero <calimero...@gmx.de > wrote:
> INSIDE TENNIS (U.S.)
> COVER STORY: APRIL 2005
>
> WHO IS THE GREATEST FEMALE PLAYER EVER?
>
> BY PAUL FEIN (U.S.)
>
> If granted one tennis wish, I'd travel in a time machine and savor a
> "dream match" between high-flying divas Suzanne Lenglen and Martina
> Navratilova, with all the theatrics that would inevitably ensue. Other
> time-travelers might choose a baseline battle between relentless heavy
> hitters Helen Wills and Steffi Graf, or an athletic "Big Babe"
> showdown featuring Margaret Court against Serena Williams.
>
> Navratilova backers unequivocally select her for the mythical
> "greatest ever" title. Proponents of Lenglen and Wills, who had near-
> perfect records between the two world wars, also stake their claims.
> And how about Court and Graf, the career leaders in Grand Slam titles?
>
> How thoroughly and for how long the great ones dominated their
> generations will serve as the overriding criteria for this debate,
> with the quality of the opposition also taken into consideration.
>
> To truly dominate, a star must consistently prevail on all surfaces,
> and no one did that better than Steffi Graf. Consider this: On her
> least productive surface, clay, the fraulein with the fearsome
> forehand captured six French Open titles!
>
> Who can forget her dramatic tour de force at Roland Garros in '99? Not
> only did Graf become the first Open Era woman to beat the top three
> players in the world at the same event -- "Lindsay Davenport, Monica
> Seles and Martina Hingis -- "but in a wild 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 final, her
> poise and professionalism contrasted sharply with the Swiss teen's
> unsporting antics.
>
> Although Graf, a svelte 5-foot-9 blonde, was not a serve-and-volleyer,
> she dethroned the ultimate grass court practitioner, Navratilova, at
> Wimbledon in '88. Seemingly unstoppable with six straight Wimby
> titles, the ex-Czech streaked to a 7-5, 2-0 lead before the equally
> athletic Graf whacked winners galore to take the final 5-7, 6-2, 6-1.
> Graf's powerful serve and vicious backhand slice complemented her
> booming forehand on grass as she racked up seven Wimbledon crowns,
> fewer only than Navratilova's nine and Wills' eight.
>
> Graf also amassed nine Grand Slam titles on hard courts, five at the
> U.S. Open and four at the Australian Open, making her the only male or
> female to win each Slam at least four times.
>
> As much as Navratilova might yearn for the unofficial "greatest ever"
> accolade, in '96 she conceded, "Steffi is the best all-around player
> of all time, regardless of the surface."
>
> The recurrent back and knee ailments and assorted illnesses that
> periodically sidelined the German made the Graf Era all the more
> remarkable. Equally injurious was her unstable father, Peter, who
> undermined her career in '90 after so skillfully guiding it for years.
> Sensational stories revealed his extramarital affair with a call girl
> who was trying to extort $400,000. After upset losses at Roland Garros
> and Wimbledon, Graf confided, "I could not fight as usual because of
> all the turmoil. Tennis is a game won with the head, and lately my
> head has not been on tennis." Graf was rocked by another scandal when
> Peter was imprisoned for tax evasion while managing her fortune.
>
> Still, in '88, this intense perfectionist pulled off an unprecedented
> "Golden Slam": winning all four major titles, plus the Olympic gold
> medal. In four other dominant years, '89, '93, '95 and '96, she
> captured three Slam crowns each. Her total of 22 majors was more
> impressive than Court's record 24, but more about that later.
>
> To clinch my case for Graf as the greatest ever, I submit that she was
> ranked No. 1 eight times, No. 2 twice and No. 3 once. During Graf's
> '83-'99 career, she faced stellar opposition from Chris Evert,
> Navratilova, Seles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Gabriela Sabatini,
> Hingis, Davenport and budding stars Venus and Serena Williams.
>
> When Graf's mother Heidi asked her why she never smiled on court, her
> fiercely competitive daughter replied, "Would you rather see me smile
> or win?" Her grimly stoical demeanor belied Graf's enormous joy.
> Announcing that she would continue to play in '99, Steffi confided,
> "Tennis is my life. I need the fabulous emotions playing tennis gives
> me."
>
> Passion may explain one requisite for greatness, because after winning
> her seventh doubles title in '03, Martina Navratilova, 47 years young,
> chirped, "I'm so excited about next year I can't stand it."
>
> Martina joined the pro tour at 16, in '73, when rackets were mostly
> wood, balls were white, the Australian and U.S. Opens were contested
> on grass and Billie Jean whipped Bobby in the "Battle of the Sexes"
> that helped ignite the tennis boom. That same year the Women's Tennis
> Association was born and a tournament, the U.S. Open, actually offered
> equal prize money to men and women. It was an auspicious time for the
> very modern Martina to arrive. Two years later, Navratilova
> courageously defected from Czechoslovakia to America, where she knew
> her prodigious talent could blossom.
>
> By '90 the muscular, 5-foot-8, 145-pound lefty had won 18 Grand Slam
> titles. Navratilova might well have collected more had she not skipped
> the Aussie and French Opens (which had declined in stature) five times
> each in the 1970s.
>
> Nerves sometimes betrayed Martina, however, and she lost a stunning 14
> Grand Slam finals. She especially struggled at the U.S. Open, which
> she didn't win until her 11th attempt, although she then captured it
> four times in five years.
>
> Her glittering resume also boasts three Aussie and two French crowns
> and eight WTA Championships, along with a perfect 20-0 record in Fed
> Cup play. All told, Navratilova grabbed 167 singles titles, an Open
> Era record. She was ranked No. 1 seven times, No. 2 and No. 3 thrice
> each.
>
> Blessed with superb hand-eye coordination, strength, reflexes, agility
> and speed, Navratilova took the compelling art of serve-and-volleying
> to new heights. She and baseliner Evert thrilled crowds for 16 years
> with an 80-match rivalry (43-37 for Navratilova), which far surpasses
> any other in women's sports history.
>
> Martina revolutionized training methods. The "Bionic Woman," as she
> was dubbed, was created in the early '80s by Nancy Lieberman's
> punishing conditioning program, Rick Elstein's "reflex training," Mike
> Estep's analytical coaching and nutritionist Robert Haas' low-fat,
> high-carbohydrate diet and 39 different blood tests a month. When
> asked who was the greatest player ever, Graf replied, "For me, she
> [Navratilova] is the uncontested No. 1; she has left a mark on the
> sport like no one else."
>
> Helen Wills, a Phi Beta Kappa at the University of California, aspired
> for something higher than being No. 1 or even dominating her
> generation. "I know I would hate life if I were deprived of trying,
> hunting, working for some objective within which there lies the beauty
> of perfection," she wrote. Ah, elusive perfection. Yet during the
> zenith of her brilliant career, from '27 to '32, Wills not only won
> every match she played --158 straight -- but also prevailed in every set
> to achieve the perfection she coveted.
>
> "Little Miss Poker Face," as she was called by Grantland Rice, showed
> her emotions about as often as she lost. Wills captured a phenomenal
> 19 of the 22 majors she played, plus a then-record eight Wimbledons,
> seven U.S. Championships and four French crowns and reached the final
> three other times. Had she taken the long boat journey to Australia,
> she undoubtedly would have amassed many more majors. "Helen's
> expression rarely varied and she always tended strictly to business,"
> wrote doubles star George Lott, "but her opponents were never in doubt
> as to what she held: an excellent service, a powerful forehand, a
> strong backhand, a killer instinct, and no weaknesses. Five of a kind!
> Who would want to draw against that kind of hand?"
>
> Certainly not some of her male practice partners. In a hard-fought San
> Francisco exhibition against her friend Phil Neer, Wills beat the
> former NCAA champion and eighth-ranked American man 6-3, 6-4. The AP,
> in its 1950 rankings of the players of the first half-century, put
> Wills No. 1 and Suzanne Lenglen No. 2.
>
> While they were not archrivals because they only played once, their
> ballyhooed encounter at an otherwise forgettable tournament on the
> French Riviera in '26 became a classic. "La Grande Suzanne," in her
> prime at 26, triumphed 6-3, 8-6 over the less-experienced college
> girl, but not before hundreds of reporters and cameramen and an
> overflow crowd filled with distinguished guests witnessed sensational
> shotmaking, theatrics and controversy. Ferdinand Tuohy wrote that the
> match was "a simple game of tennis, yet a game which made continents
> stand still and was the most important sporting event of modern times
> exclusively in the hands of the fairer sex."
>
> After the Great War, Lenglen became a national figure, the symbol of
> resurgent French pride. Her fiery Gallic temperament combined with her
> daring mid-calf skirt and sleeveless dress, colorful bandeaux, gold
> bracelet, lipstick (she was the first to wear it on court at
> Wimbledon), all-court athleticism and balletic grace made her tennis'
> first female superstar. Indeed, the imperious Bill Tilden, a magnetic
> figure of the Golden Age of Sports, admitted that Lenglen was the only
> player who was a bigger draw than he was.
>
> From '19 to '26, the incomparable Lenglen captured six Wimbledons and
> six French titles and, astoundingly, lost only twice in tournaments,
> defaults caused by illness. She never played the Australian, but her
> sole visit to the U.S. Championships in '21 proved a disaster.
> Suffering from bronchitis and coughing, Lenglen lost the first set to
> defending champion Molla Mallory and then retired, weeping, with
> unsympathetic fans and reporters calling her a quitter.
>
> Lenglen was such a phenomenal performer that the French Davis Cup
> committee asked permission to include her on their team. While "the
> record" gives a razor-thin edge to Wills over Lenglen, when asked in
> '41 who was better, Elizabeth Ryan, the 19-time Wimbledon doubles
> champion who played and partnered them both, replied, "Suzanne, of
> course. She owned every kind of shot, plus a genius for knowing how
> and when to use them." Even Tilden, who never disguised his contempt
> for Lenglen, wrote, "For sheer genius and perfect technique, Lenglen
> was the greatest woman star of all time."
>
> Purely by the numbers, namely her all-time-record 24 Slam singles
> titles, Margaret Smith Court towers above them all. But on closer
> inspection, her resume looks less awesome. Eleven of her major titles
> were at the Aussie Open, the least prestigious of the "Big Four"
> championships. Furthermore, from '60, when "Mighty Maggie" first won
> it as a 17-year-old, to her final triumph in '73, the fields were
> decidedly weak. Among the elite, Billie Jean King played there only
> thrice; Maria Bueno, Virginia Wade, Nancy Richey, Rosie Casals and Ann
> Haydon twice; Darlene Hard once.
>
> Nervousness -- King called it the old "el foldo" -- occasionally got the
> better of Court, particularly at Wimbledon, which she won "only" three
> times. Court, now a lay minister in Perth, once said she would have
> won six Wimbledon singles titles "if I'd known ...about the study of
> the word of God and the power of it."
>
> Nonetheless, the 5-foot-10, 156-pound Court blended a classic serve-
> and-volley game with aggressive groundies to rank No. 1 seven times
> and No. 2 twice. She achieved the second women's Grand Slam in '70,
> was unbeaten in 20 Fed Cup matches and captured a mind-boggling 194
> singles titles. Court's legacy was to pioneer training methods for
> women. As a skinny 15-year-old, she left home to train with '50s
> champion Frank Sedgman and physical culturist Stan Nicholes and worked
> to gain strength and speed by lifting weights, running intense sprints
> and doing a wide range of exercises, a first for women players. Noting
> the marvelous specimen that Court had become, King visited Sedgman to
> copy the grueling regimen. John Newcombe rated Court "undoubtedly the
> most athletic woman player I've seen. Stronger than most men."
>
> Extraordinary consistency at a very high level, rather than dominance,
> marked the 19-year career of Chris Evert. Unlike Graf, Navratilova,
> Wills and Court, she never won three or more Slam crowns in a year.
> Evert did, however, win 18 majors, highlighted by seven French and six
> U.S. Opens, to tie Navratilova for fourth place. She finished No. 1
> five times and No. 2 seven times and notched a gaudy 40-2 Fed Cup
> record.
>
> The 5-foot-6 Floridian also parlayed her accurate, error-free-
> groundstrokes game into three records that will likely never be
> broken: winning at least one Grand Slam title for 13 straight years,
> reaching the semis or better in her first 33 majors and winning 125
> consecutive matches on clay.
>
> Chris America, our girl-next-door sweetheart, will be remembered for
> her riveting rivalry with Navratilova, for her appealing femininity,
> and for helping to popularize the two-handed backhand (along with
> Connors, her former fiance, and Borg). But Chrissie's most lasting
> legacy was impeccable sportsmanship and grace under pressure. A survey
> in '91, two years after she retired, revealed that she was the most
> recognized athlete (92 percent) among Americans over 13.
>
> On our Top 10 list, Billie Jean King places just behind Evert at No.
> 7, but she transcended tennis even more. As the 12-year-old daughter
> of a Long Beach fireman, she vowed to change a sport she found
> elitist, stuffy and discriminatory. She tirelessly led the charge to
> create the ground-breaking Virginia Slims Circuit, championed equal
> prize money, founded (with her husband, Larry) and became the
> commissioner of World TeamTennis, was the first woman to coach a pro
> team (the Philadelphia Freedoms) with men and founded and was
> president of the Women's Tennis Association.
>
> How the did she find the time, energy and focus to also win 12 Grand
> Slam singles titles (plus 27 in doubles), highlighted by six Wimbledon
> crowns? Like her good friend Navratilova, King served and volleyed
> brilliantly. But King handled pressure far better -- Court praised her
> as "the greatest competitor I've ever known." BJK lost only six Slam
> finals. Despite a series of knee surgeries, King managed to be ranked
> No. 1 five times and No. 2 on four occasions. She also sparked the
> U.S. to seven Fed Cup titles, going 26-3 in singles. About her
> inextinguishable passion, King once said: "Ask Nureyev to stop
> dancing, ask Sinatra to stop singing -- then you can ask me to stop
> playing tennis." For changing tennis, the iconic King was named No. 5
> on Sports Illustrated's Top 40 Athletes list for the previous 40 years
> in '94.
>
> King once said that Maureen Connolly might have smashed all the
> records had not a horseback riding accident injured her leg and
> prematurely ended her short but sensational career in '54. Who could
> argue with that? In '51, Connolly won the U.S. title at 16 and then
> remained undefeated at Slams and lost only four matches anywhere.
>
> Dubbed "Little Mo" for her booming and unerring ground strokes -- "a
> reference to the big guns of "Big Mo," the battleship Missouri -- the 5-
> foot-4 Connolly shot down distinguished champions such as Doris Hart,
> Louise Brough, Margaret Osborne duPont and Shirley Fry during her
> meteoric reign. She grabbed nine majors, including three each at
> Wimbledon and Forest Hills, dropping only one set in those finals.
> Connolly joined the immortals in '53 when she became the first woman
> to win the Grand Slam.
>
> Like Lenglen, the obsessed Connolly fascinated the public, but was not
> as happy as she looked, confiding that "I have always believed
> greatness on a tennis court was my destiny, a dark destiny, at times,
> where the court became my secret jungle and I, a lonely, fear-stricken
> hunter. I was a strange little girl armed with hate, fear, and a
> Golden Racket."
>
> Nearly 40 years later, another driven but happier teen queen with
> devastating groundies suffered a bitter tragedy in her early prime.
> Monica Seles, a rare double-hander on both sides, had taken command of
> her exciting rivalry with Graf, beating her in a high-caliber Aussie
> Open final in '93 for her eighth Grand Slam crown. Three months later,
> during a changeover in Hamburg, a crazed German fan of Graf's stabbed
> Seles in the back. While the wound was not life-threatening, the
> traumatized Seles did not return to competition for 27 months. She
> battled migraine headaches until '97 and was never the same again,
> winning only one more major, the '96 Aussie, over a relatively weak
> field. Critics contend that Seles stayed away far too long and became
> a player who was consistently out of shape. Supporters insist that, if
> not for the stabbing, Seles, not Graf, would have ruled the '90s.
>
> Several contenders vie for the No. 10 spot among the all-time greats.
> In the late '30s, Alice Marble was the first female to use the serve-
> and-volley attack. She won four U.S. titles and a Wimbledon, and would
> have won many more had she not been dogged by injuries and illness
> (anemia and pleurisy) and had she not turned pro in '40.
>
> Pauline Betz is rarely mentioned on greatest-ever lists, but
> cognoscenti know better. Jack Kramer wrote that Betz was the second
> best player (after Wills) he'd ever seen. From '42 to '46, the popular
> Betz used her splendid backhand, speed, stamina and competitiveness to
> capture five Slam titles and was ranked No. 1 four times. After the
> USLTA suspended her from amateur play in '47 for merely discussing
> professionalism, "Bobbie" topped the pro ranks for seven years.
>
> From the late '50s to the mid '60s, Brazil's Maria Bueno captured four
> U.S. and three Wimbledon titles and captivated fans with her sultry
> beauty and pretty dresses as much as her stylish strokes.
>
> With a serene temperament and shot-making nonchalance, Aussie Evonne
> Goolagong enchanted spectators around the world. A Wiradjuri
> Aborigine, the daughter of an itinerant sheep shearer, she won
> Wimbledon twice, the Australian four times and Roland Garros once and
> reached 11 other major finals from '71 to '80.
>
> An African-American also from humble beginnings, Serena Williams gets
> my vote for the No. 10 spot. At 23, immensely talented and powerful,
> Serena has already won two Wimbledons, two U.S. Opens, two Australians
> and a French title for a "career" Grand Slam. As King said, "Serena's
> got great body strength, she has a strong mind. There's no weakness,
> really. Forehand, backhand, serve. She's very fluid. She's got
> everything."
>
> (c) 2005 INSIDE TENNIS All rights reserved.
>
> Max

She was overrated and definitely NOT the Greatest.