ESPN is marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX by unveiling the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years.
Tennis star Venus Williams was 14 when she turned pro. At 17, she reached her first U.S. Open final. Now 31, Williams has collected 43 WTA Tour titles, including 21 Grand Slam titles (seven in singles, 12 in doubles, two in mixed doubles), and three Olympic gold medals (one in singles, two in doubles). She is No. 21 in ESPN's countdown.
But more than anything, along with her sister Serena, Venus revolutionized the game. Women's tennis is collectively bigger, stronger and faster now because players have had to change the way they train to keep pace with the Williams sisters.
"When I was young, I had a poster of Venus on my bedroom wall," says 19-year-old Sloane Stephens, who is also African-American, and currently ranked No. 79 in the WTA standings. "I looked at that poster every day and dreamed of being just like her. She is a great role model, a strong businesswoman and a champion of women in all sports."
Earlier in this series:
No. 40: Diver Fu Mingxia
No. 39: Jockey Julie Krone
No. 38: Gymnast Mary Lou Retton
No. 37: Hockey player Cammi Granato
No. 36: Soccer player Kristine Lilly
No. 35: Basketball player Diana Taurasi
No 34: Volleyball player Flo Hyman
No. 33: Soccer player Abby Wambach
No. 32: Swimmer Mary T. Meagher
No. 31: Marathoner Joan Benoit
No. 30: Sprinter Gail Devers
No. 29: Basketball player Nancy Lieberman
No. 28: Marathoner Grete Waitz
No. 27: Soccer player Michelle Akers
No. 26: Basketball player Chamique Holdsclaw
No. 25: Swimmer Dara Torres
No. 24: Golfer Nancy Lopez
No. 23: Swimmer Tracy Caulkins
No. 22: Soccer player Marta Vieira da Silva