Top 10 Most Successful Female Athletes of All Time

There have been many women who have had great success in their endeavors as professional female athletes. Such athletes can be found in a number of sporting events such as tennis, mixed martial arts, basketball, and golf. 

The following article will explore some of the most successful female athletes from the past to the present.

1. Serena Williams

Serena Williams

One of the most popular athletes in the world, Williams has helped bring greater attention to the sport of tennis, and she currently ranks #1 in women’s singles tennis. Serena Williams was ranked the world’s No. 1 tennis player for the first time on July 8, 2002. She would hold the ranking for 186 consecutive weeks, tying Steffi Graf’s record. She has been ranked the world’s No. 1 player for 319 weeks in total, which ranks third behind Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova in the Open Era among female players. [1]

Williams has the most combined Grand Slam singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles of any active player. Her 39 titles put her in a tie for third on the all-time list and second in the Open Era. 23 of those titles are in singles, 14 are in women’s doubles, and 2 are in mixed doubles.

2. Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova

Czech-American Martina Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. She was ranked No. 1 in the world for a total of 332 weeks during her career, which spanned from 1975 to 2006. Navratilova was one of only three female tennis players to win a career grand slam in singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles. [2]

Navratilova was an activist throughout her career, speaking out against apartheid and for LGBT rights. She came out as a lesbian in 1981 — a courageous move considering the political climate of the times. In 2000, she was named one of the “100 Greatest Britons” by BBC viewers.

3. Venus Williams

Venus Williams

Venus Williams (born 1980) is an African-American tennis player who won 22 Grand Slam singles titles and 14 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles.

With her sister Serena, she is one of the most famous female tennis players of all time. In 2017, Venus claimed her 50th career title with a victory at the Taiwan Open.

Venus has also won three Olympic gold medals in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles competitions.

4. Steffi Graf

Steffi Graf

The greatest female athlete of all time is a tennis legend who dominated the sport for nearly two decades. Steffi Graf was named by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) as the top female tennis player for a record 377 weeks. She has also won 22 Grand Slam singles titles, including seven singles titles at Wimbledon and six at the French Open, for an unmatched total of 22 Grand Slam singles championships. Other accomplishments include:

Steffi retired from professional tennis in 1999 after winning her 7th Wimbledon championship. She married Andre Agassi in 2001, and they have two children.

5. Annika Sörenstam

Annika Sörenstam

Annika Sörenstam is a Swedish-born professional golfer who played on the LPGA Tour. She has won 90 international tournaments, 10 majors, and 20 other LPGA events. Sörenstam is the first female golfer to shoot a 59 in competition.

Sörenstam’s first win was in 1995 at the Haskell Invitational at the age of 21. In 2001, she set the record for most wins in one season with 11 and became the first woman to surpass $2 million in career earnings. 

In 2002, she won her second US Women’s Open title and became the first woman in 58 years to compete on the men’s PGA tour, where she played at the Colonial National Invitational tournament but missed the cut by four strokes.

6. Nadia Comaneci

Nadia Comaneci

Nadia Comaneci was a Romanian gymnast who garnered perfect scores at the 1976 Olympics when she was just 14. She went on to win three gold medals and two more silver medals (for the team competition) that year. She is recognized as the first athlete ever to score a perfect 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event.

Though she won five more Olympic medals during her career, Nadia’s greatest accomplishment was making history. Her breakthrough paved the way for other athletes to pursue gymnastics as a serious sport and not just an element of physical education.

7. Mia Hamm

Mia Hamm

Mia Hamm is often considered the best female soccer player ever. She helped the US Women’s National Team to two World Cup victories and two Olympic gold medals in her ten-year-spanning career. Hamm finished her career with 158 goals in 275 international games, more than any other player (male or female). 

She was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011 and was named FIFA Female Player of the Century in 2012. [3]

8. Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King is one of the most famous female tennis players of all time. She won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 singles, 16 women’s doubles, and 11 mixed doubles. 

King was ranked #1 in the world from 1966 to 1968 and from 1973 to 1975. She was named one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” by Life magazine. In 1999, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. King was one of the first prominent athletes to come out as gay when she did so in 1981. [4]

Martina Navratilova – a Czech American tennis champion – won 59 Grand Slam titles, including 18 singles and 31 women’s doubles tournaments. Navratilova had 167 career singles titles at a time when only four other men or women had passed 100 career singles titles. 

During her career, she spent 332 weeks as the No. 1 ranked female tennis player in the world and holds the records for most singles (167) and doubles titles (177) in the Open Era.

9. Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a retired American track and field athlete who was ranked among the greatest in the heptathlon as well as in the long jump. She won three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals in those two events at four different Olympic Games. 

Sports Illustrated for Women voted Olympic gold medalist and World Championship gold medalist runner/long jumper Jackie Joyner-Kersee the greatest female athlete of all time. [5]

Joyner-Kersee is one of the most famous athletes to have overcome severe asthma. Jackie was born with a club foot; her father also had a club foot and walked with leg braces when he was young. She attended college at UCLA, where she starred in track & field and women’s basketball from 1984 to 1985. She was honored as the National Collegiate Athletic Association Female Athlete of the Year in 1987 and 1988 while finishing her track career as a 10-time NCAA champion.

In 1988, Joyner-Kersee won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. The Jesse Owens International Athlete Award (1985) and named “Greatest Female Athlete” (1987) by Track & Field News also marked her decision to focus on training full time for the Olympics rather than play professional basketball.

10. Bonnie Blair

Bonnie Blair

Five-time Olympic gold medalist Bonnie Blair was arguably the greatest American speed skater of all time. The Wisconsin native dominated the sport in the 1980s and 1990s, taking home one gold medal in 1984 and four gold medals in 1988, 1992, and 1994. 

Blair is just the second American woman to win five gold medals at a single Olympics — swimmer Amy Van Dyken did it in 1996. She retired from competition in 1995 and was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame three years later. 

In 2004, she was voted into the World Speed Skating Hall of Fame and received the prestigious James E. Sullivan Award, which recognizes an outstanding amateur athlete in any sport. [6]

11. Babe Didrikson Zaharias

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

Sports fans have long admired Babe Didrikson Zaharias for her athletic versatility and accomplishments. Winning two gold medals and a silver medal at the 1932 Olympics, she played basketball professionally, won 82 out of 88 amateur golf tournaments, and was the first woman to qualify for a men’s PGA tournament in 1945. She also set world records for javelin and hurdles.

In 1950, she won the US Women’s Open golf championship — one of 10 major golf championships she won — and was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year (an honor she received six times).

Babe passed away from cancer in 1956 at age 45.

12. Chris Evert

Chris Evert

Chris Evert is an American retired world’s #1 tennis player. She won 18 Grand Slam singles titles and three doubles titles during an Open Era record career in which she won 1309 matches and lost 146. Evert won 157 singles championships and 32 doubles titles.

Chris Evert, a four-time winner of the US Open, reached 34 Grand Slam singles finals, more than any other player in the history of professional tennis. Moreover, she has won seven different tournaments at least six times each.

13. Katie Ledecky

Katie Ledecky

Swimmer Katie Ledecky has won five Olympic gold medals and 14 world championship gold medals. The female swimmer has more Olympic and world championship gold medals than any other swimmer. She also holds the world record in the women’s 400-, 800-, and 1,500-meter freestyle (long course).

Ledecky is the first woman to win the 200-, 400-, and 800-meter freestyle at a single world championship. She also holds 13 of the top 14 times for the 1,500m freestyle event.

14. Florence Griffith-Joyner

Florence Griffith-Joyner

Arguably the most famous female athlete in history and certainly one of the greatest, Florence Griffith-Joyner (or FloJo) was an athlete who seemed to have come out of nowhere. In three years, she went from being a relatively unknown sprinter to setting records that still stand today. 

She won three Olympic gold medals in 1988 and set world records in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay. Her record for the 100m stood for 21 years until 2009, when it was broken by Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce. FloJo was named by ESPN as one of the 20 most famous athletes of all time and by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 40 athletes who changed sports history.

15. Margaret Court

Margaret Court

The Australian tennis star, who won a whopping 62 Grand Slam titles (singles, doubles, and mixed doubles), was the world’s top-ranked player in singles and the world’s top-ranked female player in doubles. She was named the Australian Female Athlete of the Year seven times between 1960 and 1975.

After retiring in 1975, she became a preacher and started her own church in Perth called Victory Life Centre.


While there are no female representatives in the “Big 4” of team sports – football, baseball, basketball, and hockey – there are women playing other professional sports. And there have also been several US athletes who have managed to become extremely successful despite competing in more unheralded, less popular sports. 

Overall, women’s participation in athletics has increased dramatically over the years, with opportunities continuing to expand. We believe this trend will continue, and the prominence of female athletes will only increase.