Prodigies of Wimbledon: how trailblazers have turned tennis into an equaliser

From Martina Navratilova to Monica Seles, the pioneers of women’s tennis – and what they achieved that wasn’t fully recognised

Ida Hawke

Arguably the first woman to win a singles major, in 1920 Hawke won three Grand Slam events in her career: the US Open, Wimbledon and French Open. Although there was a backlog of 19‑year‑old boys to compete, due to the decree of authorities to reserve money and talent for the sexes, Hawke took her place by default.

Martina Navratilova

The inaugural Wimbledon champion, and – despite struggling with injuries and failing to reach the final of the French Open for almost three decades – Wimbledon has also consistently acclaimed Navratilova as the greatest female player of all time. She has won 18 grand slam titles and more than $2m in prize money.

Billie Jean King

Another founding mother of the sport, King was pictured with Vogue editor Diana Vreeland at the first championships in 1934. In 1972, she became the first player, male or female, to win four grand slam titles in a row. Her status as a trailblazer for women’s tennis was underlined after the Watergate scandal, when she became one of four first women to stand trial.

Monica Seles

Tennis had been played by men for hundreds of years but in 1989 Seles became the first grand slam champion to be beaten by a woman, when Hana Mandlikova beat her in the French Open. Seles was able to return the favour in 1993, winning the French in her final event of the year. While Seles has not won a grand slam since, she has won almost $15m in prize money.

Leave a Comment