These women have made history in their glorious careers.
In women’s tennis history, there have been quite a few players who have peaked at a very young age. These players have displayed their maturity at such a young age that most would feel early jitters. They were neither fazed by nervousness while playing in front of heavyweight opponents nor felt uneasy performing in front of a huge crowd. More so when it came to displaying their mettle under the bright lights of a Grand Slam.
These youngsters had the mental fortitude of seasoned veterans, something that only comes with big stage experience which in their case there was none. However, that didn’t stop them from doing the impossible. In the process, they shocked the fans, their opponents and the tennis world at large. These women came in as underdogs and in a short while became masters of their craft.
So much so that they found themselves sitting at the top of the throne within a few years of turning pro. So without further ado, we will dive in and find out about these young tennis prodigies. These are the five youngest players to become World No 1:
Plenty of chances but no finished product
5. Maria Sharapova (18 years and 4 months)
Russia’s Maria Sharapova is the first on our list. Sharapova burst into the WTA scene with a bang. Maria became a Grand Slam champion within three years of turning pro. She had put up decent performances in the previous two Grand Slams that year. However, it was at Wimbledon where she truly shone the brightest.
The 13th seed Sharapova defeated Serena Williams in straight sets. The victory broke Serena’s dream of becoming a three-time consecutive US Open winner. A feat only held by Steffi Graf Maria easily claimed the first set. Serena tried to hold her own in the second but couldn’t match Maria’s level. In the end, the Nyagan-born player successfully wrapped up the match with a 6-1,6-4 victory. Following this Maria had a great 2005 calendar. A year where she reached three semi-finals and a quarter-final in the Grand Slams.
The day was 22nd August 2005. Sharapova marked a memorable moment in her career on that eve. The career Grand Slam winner could not have asked for more. She had to leave her life behind in Russia and moved to the United States at a very tender age to pursue her Grand Slam dream. This surely made her sacrifices worthwhile.
4. Steffi Graf (18 years and 2 months)
Steffi Graf was a player like no other. She was forced to reckon with it during the late 1980s and early 90s. Steffi’s biggest asset was her versatility on all surfaces. Hard court, clay, grass whatever it may be she never looked out of place anywhere. The German reached the top of the WTA ranking on 17th August 1987.
That year could also be credited as her breakthrough year. She made her way into the French Open after six consecutive tournament victories. Steffi defeated her arch nemesis Martina Navratilova (6-4,4-6,8-6) and lifted the French Open. She then went on to reach the finals of Wimbledon. Coincidentally losing it against Navratilova.
Following this, she defeated the great Chris Evert in the Virginia Slims in Los Angeles. The victory helped her move to the top of the rankings edging past Martina. A position she would hold for the next 186 consecutive weeks. Most deservingly so as she had a 97.4% winning percentage that whole calendar year.
3. Tracy Austin (17 years and 3 months)
Tracy Austin’s name might be unfamiliar to many. Especially the modern tennis fans. Despite that, she would go down as one of the finest young players during her time. Austin is perhaps best known for her victories over Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in the US Open finals.
A backhand specialist Austin became a top seed on April 7, 1980. To date, Austin is the youngest female singles champion in the US Open at 16 years. Moreover, she was also the youngest inductee in the International Tennis Hall of Fame at 29. Unfortunately, her series of injuries and an automobile accident cut her career short. Following this, the Palos Verdes native had to end her career at 31 years young.
2. Monica Seles (17 years and 3 months)
Monica Seles had already established herself as the new kid on the block in the 1990s. The teenager had dispatched Steffi Graf in straight sets (7-6,6-4) in straight sets at the French Open that year. The following year she started her Grand Slam campaign with a victory in the Australian Open.
This time it was Jana Novotna on the receiving end. These victories allowed Seles to attain the top WTA ranking on March 1991. Ironically she was the person who ended Graf’s reign at the top after nearly three years.
1. Martina Hingis (16 years and 3 months)
Who can forget the smiling 16-year-old teenager? A player in her mid-teens gave the veterans a run for their money. Well, Martina Hingis did just that. The young Swiss teenager came, saw and conquered like no other in the game.
Miss “Can’t-miss-Swiss” won three major Grand Slams in 1997. She won two more in 1998 and 1999. Hingis lit up the courts wherever she went with her youthful exuberance and skills. She was a true savant of the game in every sense. Martina was one of the few players who was equally successful in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
Hingis was a literal firecracker when she was on song. The 1997 Australian Open is one fine example of that. She demolished every opponent put in front of her without dropping a single set. She was truly one of a kind.
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