At 32, most tennis players, at least in the singles busy themselves in the quest for an elusive final flourish to decorate the final chapters of their careers. Not Serena Williams. The American is playing with the eagerness of a teenager to create the finest season of her career. In winning her match over Maria Kirilenko, Serena took the 70th win of this season against a mere four losses.
A winning rate of 94.59% allows the American to sneak just ahead of Justine Henin (94.03% – 2007) to force her way into the list of top ten most successful seasons in women’s tennis. In this feature we look at these spectacular seasons. The amazing Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf dominate the list, owning the best seven seasons on the list – a fact that underlines the ruthless dominance of these two women.
10. Serena Williams (70-4*; 2013) –
She isn’t done yet, but 70 wins in 74 matches is an awe inspiring feat from the world No. 1. Only three women have beaten her this year – Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open quarterfinals, Sabine Lisicki in the round of 16 at Wimbledon and Victoria Azarenka in the finals of Cincinnati and Doha. Williams won both the French Open and US Open to increase her grand slam count to 17.
The powerful American is marching steadily towards the highest peaks of tennis and despite advancing age, she shows no sign of fatigue or slowing down. Quite simply, there isn’t much her competitors can do when the younger Williams has her mind set on tennis. With a few more weeks left to be ticked off on the calendar, she could move slightly higher up the ladder of best performances over a season of tennis.
Serena’s success this year has enabled her to usurp the 10th on this list from Justine Henin, who earned her place with that remarkable season in 2007. That was the season where the Belgian won her third straight French Open and then the US Open without losing a set.
* Season still in progress
9. Chris Evert (56-3; 1978) –
The poster girl of women’s tennis during her era was in outrageous form during 1977 and 1978. It was a period during which Evert won as many as 18 of the 25 tournaments entered including two US Open titles, even as she won 126 matches against just 7 losses. Many believe that, had Evert not missed the French Open during that time to play in the World Team Tennis, organized by Billie Jean King, she would have taken her tally in Paris to ten titles.
As it is the ‘Ice Maiden’ won the farewell US Open event at Forest Hills (Clay) and the inaugural event at the Flushing Meadows in 1978. Evert’s success tapered off slightly with the arrival of her arch rival Martina Navratilova but she had already made a strong imprint by then.
The Florida native shall always be remembered for that monstrous streak on clay that lasted an incredible 125 matches between August 1973 and May 1979. As hard as it is to believe, Evert lost just 8 sets in those 125 matches.
8. Margaret Court (102-5; 1973) –
The most prolific woman of all time and a grand slam winner in 1970, Court is also the most successful woman in tennis. Her career winning percentage (91.68%) has remained unmatched to this day. The calendar grand slam in 1970 and the fact that she is one of only three players to own a full set of major titles in singles, doubles and mixed will always stand her apart in the pantheon of great players.
Juggling motherhood and a tennis career with effortless ease, Margaret won three of the four grand slam titles in 1973. Considering that Court gave birth to Daniel in 1972 and Marika in 1974, it is nothing short of a miracle that she played a brutal schedule lasting 107 matches in 1973. The Aussie won both singles and doubles at the Australian, French and US Open to crown a stellar season.
2nd, 4th and 7th – Steffi Graf (72-3; 1988 | 75-2; 1987 | 86-2; 1989)
The great German was simply imperious during her reign between 1987 through 1989. The unbelievable Steffi won an impossible 233 matches through a three year period that included a calendar grand slam and a gold medal at the Olympics in Seoul.
Starting at the 1987 French Open, Graf made the finals of each grand slam events all the way through to the French Open in 1990. No wonder then that the German features prominently on this list through her consistent exploits over a three year period.
1988 stands out for being the only time in tennis history when a player has won the four major events along with the gold medal at the Olympics. But it was her continued success in 1989 that helped Steffi seal her place at second on the table, with a marginally lower success rate than Martina Navratilova.
1st, 3rd, 5th & 6th – Martina Navratilova (86-1; 1983 | 78-2; 1984 | 90-3; 1982 | 89-3; 1986)
The much respected Navratilova ruled the women’s tour with unmatched consistency. In 1983 she registered her most successful season ever, winning an imposing 86 of her 87 matches to establish an unparalleled benchmark for success. Navratilova’s only loss that year came at the hands of Kathleen Horvath at the French Open. She won the other three grand slam events.
In fact during those three straight years of dominance, Navratilova lost just six matches. Two of those losses came in 1984 when she lost to Helena Sukova at the Australian Open and Hana Mandlikova at Oakland. As in the previous year, Navratilova won the remaining three grand slam events in that season.
1982 and 1986 also saw the Czech turned American continue to sustain near impossible levels of tennis standards. In both these seasons, Navratilova lost just three matches each as he ruled the tour with an iron fist.
Back to the present, Serena has some more airtime before she reaches Istanbul for the season finale. If she can remain unbeaten through the remainder of the season the American can become the first 30 plus athlete to have enjoyed a season of such high consistency and caliber. At an age when most tennis stars start contemplating retirement; Serena is enjoying a fresh lease of life.
How much more could she achieve before stepping away into the shadows?