Margaret Court: Big Marge dominated the tour in the Sixties and Seventies, winning her first two Wimbledon titles in 1963 and 1965. She quit the circuit in 1966 to marry and start a family, but returned to the game and in 1970 she won all four majors to achieve the grand slam. On the Wimbledon leg of that grand slam, Court and Billie Jean King contested what was one of the greatest finals in the tournament’s history, with the Australian eventually closing out a 14-12, 11-9 victory. In addition to her three Wimbledon trophies, Court won a further 21 grand slam singles titles, taking her singles tally to 24, and many consider her to be the greatest female player to have ever stepped on Centre Court.
Serena Williams: She may go on court with designer handbags and outrageous earrings, but don’t for a minute think that the American is anything other than ferociously competitive on court. Serena has now won five Wimbledon titles, in 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010 and this summer.
Helen Wills Moody: Known variously as ‘Little Miss Poker Face’, ‘ Queen Helen’ and ‘Imperial Helen’, the American dominated Wimbledon between the World Wars, winning eight titles. The first four came in successive years, from 1927-30, and the rest were in 1932, 1933, 1935 and 1938.
Venus Williams: It was Martina Navratilova who once summed up why Venus has been so successful on the Wimbledon grass, winning five titles. “What makes Venus so dangerous on the Wimbledon grass,” said Navratilova, herself a champion nine times at the All England Club, “is that she’s got the wingspan of a 747, so when she comes to net, her opponent thinks, ‘Aargh, oh no, what do I do now?'” But, as Navratilova said, there is more to the Californian ‘747’ than the fact she can terrify opponents with her reach in the service box. “Venus loves the grass, she embraces it. She adjusts her game so well on the grass. She plays with abandon and attitude. She takes charge of the point. She raises her level, the grass suits her game, and she loves it.”
Martina Hingis: The Little Swiss Miss was just 16 years old when she beat Jana Novotna in the 1997 Wimbledon final, and so became the youngest champion of the professional era. Hingis displayed an excellent tennis brain; she played tennis with an exceptionally high IQ.
Steffi Graf: Graf was to win a total of seven Wimbledon singles titles up to 1996, but none would surpass her first. In 1988, she dethroned Martina Navratilova at the All England Club on the way to collecting all four major championships in a calendar year. And she then added a victory at the Seoul Olympics to produce a unique golden grand slam. An added bonus that year was her success in the Wimbledon doubles with Gabriela Sabatini, for her only major title in that version of the game. In 1989, the then German supremacy in tennis was underlined with Wimbledon wins for both Graf and Boris Becker. Graf went on to collect a remarkable 22 grand slam singles crowns, before marrying Andre Agassi in a rare match-up of Wimbledon champions.
Martina Navratilova: There can be no disputing Navratilova’s supremacy at the All England Club. The joint record holder with Billie Jean King of a total of 20 Wimbledon titles, she is unmatched in singles with nine victories. Having won the singles for the first time in 1978 and then secured six victories in a row up to 1987, she did not break Helen Wills Moody’s record of eight until 1990, when she was almost 34 years old. Her longevity in doubles was even greater, spanning 17 years to 2003, when her victory in the mixed doubles made her at 46 years 261 days the oldest ever Wimbledon champion. It was only possible thanks to her taking physical fitness in tennis to new levels. And yet it could have been very different after her defection from Czechoslovakia to the USA during the Cold War, as she initially showed such a passion for American junk food that she put on weight alarmingly. Turning that around proved to be the making of her.
Billie Jean King: It was not just her record 20 Wimbledon titles, six of them in the singles between 1966 and 1975, that King will be remembered for. She was the foremost pioneer of women’s professional tennis in the sixties and seventies, bringing a new athleticism to the female game and campaigning for fair rewards in return. To which end she played in the infamous ‘ Battle of the Sexes’ in Houston, Texas, in 1973, when, as the reigning Wimbledon champion, she beat Bobby Riggs, the 1939 men’s victor at the All England Club. Having won the doubles on her first visit to SW19 as a teenager in 1961, she was nearly 36 years old at the time of her last success at the Championships in 1979 – partnering Martina Navratilova, who would later equal her number of Wimbledon crowns. A less heralded achievement was becoming the first woman to win at Wimbledon wearing glasses.
Chris Evert: Known as the Ice Maiden for having icicles in her veins on court, the American won her first Wimbledon title in 1974. That same year, her fiancé, Jimmy Connors, won the men’s crown, and the two of them danced together at the Champions’ Ball. Their romance became known as the ‘Love Match’. However, they broke off the engagement later that year so there was no fairytale ending. But she did go on to win two more Venus Rosewater Dishes, with triumphs in 1976 and 1981, and also married and divorced Britain’s John Lloyd.
Suzanne Lenglen: She was French and she was fabulous. One of the first racket-twirling divas, Lenglen used to sip brandy during the change of ends. And – shock horror – Lenglen showed her ankles to the world, sported a short hairstyle, and refused to wear a corset at Wimbledon. Polite society didn’t know what had hit it, as Lenglen won the Wimbledon title in 1925. The French press nicknamed her ‘La Divine’ (the divine one), and she did much to get the starch out of the clothes and out of tennis as whole. She won six Wimbledon titles, with an uninterrupted stretch of five crowns from 1919-23, and the last in 1925.