Serena Williams, Marta, and Simone Biles join Katie Taylor in the top 10 best female athletes of the 21st century

Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano clash in arguably the biggest fight in women’s boxing history this weekend in New York – but have either done enough to crack the top 10 best female athletes of the 21st century?

The rise of women in combat sports has been notable in the last 20 years with female fighters topping major UFC fight cards, while Taylor vs Serrano headlines the iconic Madison Square Garden.

Mark Robinson / Matchroom

Taylor and Serrano will battle at Madison Square Garden

Competition is fierce, so we’ve come up with 10 athletes from 10 different sports to stop the list being dominated by, say, Jamaican sprinters or US swimmers.

But that doesn’t change the fact that these 10 are, in order, the most influential female athletes so far this century.

10. Dame Laura Kenny

No British bias required: Kenny’s dazzling Olympic record makes her the most successful women’s track cyclist of all time. She has five gold medals and one silver across three Olympic Games, totals which no other female cyclist can match.

The 5ft 4in dynamo has also won seven World Championship titles and she only turned 30 this year, so could have more left in the tank.

Dame Laura has set her sights on Paris 2024 and extending her record as Britain’s most successful female Olympian. Impressive – just don’t make us try to explain the Omnium.

Kenny is an Olympic legend


Kenny is an Olympic legend

9. Lindsey Vonn

American skiing icon combined crossover stardom with record-shattering success, made even more impressive by the fact that injuries took chunks out of her career. That still wasn’t enough to stop Vonn winning 82 World Cup races (a record for any female skier).

She claimed three Olympic medals, including gold in the downhill in 2010, but could have won more. An ACL injury wrecked her 2014 season and meant she could not compete in the Sochi Games.

Vonn finally retired in 2019, after becoming the oldest woman to win a medal at a World Championship at age 34.

Vonn is a superstar of her sport and will go down in history


Vonn is a superstar of her sport and will go down in history

8. Ellyse Perry

An all-rounder in the broadest sense. Perry is a frontline fast-bowler and dangerous batter for the all-conquering Australia cricket team. Oh, and before she was made to choose between the two sports in 2016, she was also an elite footballer, representing the Australia national team, winning 18 caps as a defender and scoring three goals.

Her cricket records are endless, from the highest Test score by an Australian woman (213 not out) to her 161 ODI wickets and counting. Still only 31 and presumably able to just pick up and dominate any sport she likes.

7. Katie Taylor

Not just for her in-ring triumphs, but on how she has boosted the popularity of women’s boxing. When she won gold at London 2012, Taylor was rightly viewed as the world’s top pound-for-pound female boxer.

She struggled at Rio four years later but her achievements since turning pro (two-weight world champion, 20-0, undisputed at lightweight) speak for themselves.

Now 35, Taylor is a narrow underdog against Serrano but even if she loses, her skill and will to win have sealed her legacy. Did we mention she won 11 caps for the Republic of Ireland football team in her youth as well?

Taylor will finally meet Serrano

Mark Robinson / Matchroom

Taylor will finally meet Serrano

6. Katie Ledecky

Deep breath (something Ledecky is presumably an expert in): the US swimming sensation is the world record holder in the women’s 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle; has won 10 Olympics medals (seven gold, three silver); and has been named Female World Swimmer of the Year a record-breaking five times. All this at the age of 25.

Her rivalry with Australia’s Ariarne Titmus lit up last year’s Tokyo Games, but even if Ledecky never raced again, the 15-year-old who shocked the world by winning gold at London 2012 has gone on to prove her greatness.

5. Ronda Rousey

Like Taylor, Rousey cannot be judged solely on her win-loss record but on her overall impact. Dana White had no desire to have women fight in the UFC before Ronda changed his mind.

The UFC built a division around her and she responded with dominance, the Olympic judo medalist racing to 14-0 in MMA, arm-barring foes into submission.

Her loss to Holly Holm in 2015 was a huge shock and Amanda Nunes (the only other person to beat her) put together an incredible run as champion. But Rousey laid the groundwork for every woman to follow in her footsteps.

Rousey helped build the UFC house having become the first female fighter signed to the promotion when she joined in 2012 and the later becoming a world champion

Getty Images – Getty

Rousey helped build the UFC house having become the first female fighter signed to the promotion when she joined in 2012 and the later becoming a world champion

4. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Just pips her Jamaica teammate Elaine Thompson-Herah on the line by pure longevity. The 5ft ‘Pocket Rocket’ won the 100m sprint at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, proving herself the fastest woman on the planet, and part of her legacy of eight Olympic medals overall.

Still quick enough for silver in the 100m at the Tokyo Games last year, Fraser-Pryce is also the only athlete ever to win four world 100m titles. Alongside Usain Bolt, she helped take Jamaican athletics to the world stage – and even at 35, she is not done yet.

3. Martha

If Brazilian football fans call you ‘the female Pele’ (a nickname ‘the actual Pele’ has endorsed), you know how highly your talent is rated.

Scorer of 115 goals in 171 games for Brazil and with 17 World Cup goals (a record for any player), Marta is actually more of an all-round flair player than a pure poacher.

In terms of team glory, the all-conquering USA team stands above every other side. But when it comes to individual gifts, Marta – still producing her magic at age 36 – is the best female footballer of all time.

Marta is an exceptional talent and remains one of the very best

Marta is an exceptional talent and remains one of the very best

2. Simone Biles

Long before her 25th birthday in March or her well-publicized, honestly-confronted struggles at last year’s Tokyo Games, Biles was already being talked about as the GOAT gymnastics.

The 4ft 8in American has seven Olympic medals (four gold) and 25 World Championship medals (19 gold; an all-time record for a male or female gymnast).

But experts will tell you it isn’t the medals that show Biles’ greatness: it’s the jaw-dropping way she can twist her sport, doing things physically beyond any gymnast that came before her.

Biles is able to take your breath away with her skills


Biles is able to take your breath away with her skills

1. Serena Williams

Serena and her sister Venus changed the tennis landscape when they broke through in the late 1990s but it’s the younger Williams’ staying power that’s unique.

Across her 20+ year career, Serena has won 23 singles grand slam titles, another 14 in doubles, four Olympic gold medals and every other trophy going.

A mix of power, athleticism, skill and a tenacious will to win, Serena has been controversial and outspoken at times, but brilliant and box office far more often. The clear no.1 in her sport and on this list.

Williams is one of the greatest ever


Williams is one of the greatest ever

The next 10: Annika Sorenstam (golf), Marianne Vos (cycling), Claressa Shields (boxing), Elaine Thompson-Herah (athletics), Mia Hamm (football), Diana Taurasi (basketball), Justine Henin (tennis), Sarah Storey (cycling / swimming), Rachael Blackmore (racing), Amanda Nunes (MMA)


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