Tennis Week The Best Of The Best 11/06/2003 Eight of the world's best players converge in Los Angeles this week to compete in the WTA Tour Championships and strive for supremacy as the season-ending No. 1 player. As the competition to contest the top spot unfolds, I've conducted my own championship to crown the greatest woman player of the Open Era. As I wrote in my first feature for Tennis Week.com Numbers Reveal The No. 1 Player Of The Open Era, tennis is a tough sport to evaluate. We have a tendency to judge players based solely on observation rather than on careful statistical scrutiny. As we all know, appearances can be deceiving. Some players may look like world beaters on some days yet ultimately find a way to lose a match, while other players may look like they wouldn't take a game off their 99-year-old grandmother still wielding a wood racquet, yet they seem to find a way to win. Ultimately, champions produce results and results are what should be used in assessing the greatest champions — not speculation, not opinions, not the style of someone's forehand. I compared the nine greatest women of the Open Era — Lindsay Davenport, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Martina Navratilova, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Monica Seles, Serena Williams and Venus Williams — using the following statistical criteria: Career winning percentage Best winning percentage for a five-year period Career tournament titles Tournament titles in a best five-year period Career percentage of tournaments won Percentage of tournaments won in a best five year period Career Grand Slam titles Career percentage of Slams won Total Grand Slams won in a best five year period Percentage of Grand Slams won in a best five-year period Quite honestly, before I began my research for this story, I truly believed Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf would resume the rivalry they shared on court in competing for the unofficial title as the game's greatest player with Chris Evert settling in the third spot. However, as I began research on this statistical study, I soon realized the remarkable record Chris Evert had amassed and it quickly became clear the Fort Lauderdale native with the impeccably immaculate strokes was in the running to take the title as the game's greatest player of the Open Era. Ultimately, it was a very, very close battle between Navratilova, Evert and Graf, but after careful consideration of all the stats (I used Hall of Fame tennis writer Bud Collins' Total Tennis as well as the work of esteemed tennis historian Robert Geist) I am ready to announce one player as the greatest of the Open Era: Martina Navratilova! The legendary lefthander finished first in five of the 10 categories I established and did not place lower than third in any one category. The greatness of Navratilova is a given, but what was absolutely astonishing was Navratilova's comprehensive domination of women's tennis from 1982 to 1986. In that stunning span of five years, Navratilova produced a 427-14 record for a wondrous winning percentage of .968. Losing only 14 matches is regarded as a great year for most players, but Navratilova's 14 losses in five years is an average of just under three losses per year! In that spectacular five-year span, the serve-and-volleyer won 70 of 84 tournaments she entered and 12 of the 19 Grand Slams she played. No woman in the Open Era was as dominant during any five-year period as Navratilova. Her official record of 167 singles titles may well prove to be one of the toughest tennis records to break. In 1984, Navratilova set the Open Era record for most consecutive wins with 74 straight victories. The owner of 58 Grand Slam titles overall, Navratilova's numbers are mind-boggling. As Tennis Week senior feature writer Bud Collins writes in Total Tennis: "As a pro since 1973, Navratilova played the most singles tournaments (383) and matches (1,653), and won the most titles and matches (1,440) with a won-loss mark of 1,440-213." The 16-year rivalry between Navratilova and Evert is one of the most storied in sports history. The pair first met in 1973 in Akron, Ohio with Evert scoring a 7-6, 6-3 victory. Evert won 21 of the pair's first 25 meetings, but Navratilova would rally to win 39 of their final 55 matches to conclude the career rivalry with a 43-37 edge over Evert. A winner of 154 career singles titles, Evert finished a very close second to Navratilova in my study. Evert claimed the top spot in two of the 10 categories, and like her archrival, she did not place lower than third in any single category. The brilliant baseliner was so consistently great for so many years, her achievements are almost beyond belief when the records are viewed in retrospect. Two stats stand out in Evert's remarkable resume: Her career record of 1,309-146 is an astounding .8996 winning percentage — the best in the history of professional tennis. She won more than half of the tournaments she entered and was a runner-up in 72 tournaments, which means she reached the finals in 76 percent of the 303 tournaments she entered, according to Collins' Total Tennis. As great as Navratilova was from 1982 to 1986, Evert's record from 1974 to 1978 is almost as impressive. During that five-year period, Evert registered a 325-21, capturing 61 of the 84 tournaments she entered, including eight of the 13 Grand Slams she played. Entering 13 majors in a five-year span is not much by today's standards, but in Evert's era many of the top American players seldom played the Australian Open. In fact, Evert only played the Australian Open once in the first 10 years of her career, reaching the final in 1974. Had Evert entered more majors during that time she very well could have threatened Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. In retrospect, it's truly amazing that two of the greatest players of all time played basically at the same time. How many majors did each prevent the other from winning? How many more majors would Navratilova or Evert had won without the presence of her primary rival? Then again, both women have said repeatedly that the rivalry pushed them to produce their best tennis. They played 22 times in majors with Navratilova holding a 14-8 edge in those Grand Slam showdowns. Even in my research, the rivalry between the pair produced a very close result. For example, had Evert beaten Navratilova in the 1978 Wimbledon final (Navratilova won 2-6, 6-4, 7-5), Evert would have been No. 1 in my statistical study. It was that close. On a side note, my research shows Hall of Famers Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall played each other approximately 140 times with Laver holding the edge in one of the greatest men's rivalries in history.