Apart from a few notable exceptions in elite superstars like Serena Williams or Danica Patrick, female athletes rarely seem to garner the same attention as their male counterparts. That paradigm is shifting with the changing of the times, of course, but we’re still quite far from giving female athletes the same recognition that we do males.
That being said, many female athletes are bringing home some serious bacon, especially in the golfing and tennis worlds. Players like Maria Sharapova (who took in about $25 million in the last 12 months) are signing huge multi-million endorsement deals with multinational companies, showing that besides being masters of their sport, they're also savvy businesswomen. But you don't get a huge endorsement deal without first becoming a master of your sport - and everyone on this list of 20 richest female athletes is just that.
20 Yani Tseng, Golf - $6.1 million
Yani Tseng is a Taiwanese golfer who holds the distinction of being the youngest player ever, male or female, to win five major championships. In the last two and a half years she’s had 20 victories and is on the verge of qualifying for the World Golf Hall of Fame although she’s only 25-years old. She was ranked No. 1 in the world for 109 consecutive weeks from 2011 to 2013.
19 Agnieszka Radwanska, Tennis - $6.9 million
This 25-year old Polish tennis player is currently ranked No. 2 in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association. Agnieszka Radwanska has won 14 career singles titles, and at Wimbledon this year she became the first Polish player ever to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open Era. She has earned $4.9 million in prize money in the past 12 months. Her sponsors include Lotto, Babolat, and Lexus.
18 Cristie Kerr, Golf - $7 million
Cristie Kerr is an American professional golfer who has over $15 million in career earnings. She turned professional in 1996 and won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2007, the LPGA Championship in 2010, and 16 overall LPGA Tour wins. She was the No. 1 ranked women’s golfer in the world for three periods in 2010.
17 Inbee Park, Golf - $7.9 million
26-year old Inbee Park of South Korea was the No. 1 ranked woman golfer in the world from April 15, 2013 to June 1, 2014. She has won five major championships in her career, including three consecutive majors during the 2013 season, making her only the fourth player in the LPGA to win three majors in a calendar year. She also is the youngest player to win the U.S. Women’s Open.
16 Paula Creamer, Golf - $8 million
American golfer Paula Creamer, nicknamed “The Pink Panther” because of her attire, has won 12 professional championships (10 on the LPGA Tour), with her biggest payday coming in 2010 when she won the U.S. Women’s Open by four strokes and cashed in $585,000. She has been as highly ranked as No. 2 in the world, and is the second-youngest event winner in LPGA history.
15 Ana Ivanovic, Tennis - $12 million
Serbian tennis player Ana Ivanovic was formerly ranked No. 1 in the world before slipping to No. 64 in 2010. Since then she has bounced back, winning three tournaments over the past two years and is ranked No. 5 as of October 27, 2014. She has defeated some of the best women in the sport, including Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki. Her Adidas shoe and apparel deal is one of the most lucrative in women’s tennis.
14 Lorena Ochoa, Golf - (tie) $15 million
Although Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa retired in 2010, it’s hard to deny her success in the sport. She played on the LPGA Tour from 2003 to 2010 and was the top-ranked female golfer in the world for over three years, from April 2007 until ending on a high note with her retirement in May 2010. She is considered the best Mexican golfer of all time.
13 Jelena Janković, Tennis - (tie) $15 million
Serbian tennis player Jelena Janković is a former World No. 1 in singles. She won the 2007 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title with Jamie Murray, and in 2008 she became the first woman tennis player to be ranked No. 1 in the Women’s Tennis Association without winning a Grand Slam event in the year. Her current ranking is No. 11, and she has won $16.6 million in career prize money, the 15th most of all-time in women’s tennis.
12 Victoria Azarenka, Tennis - (tie) $15 million
25-year old Belarusian tennis player Victoria Azarenka was ranked No. 1 in the world in 2012, and is currently world No. 23 as of October 1, 2014. She became the first Belarusian player to win a Grand Slam singles title in 2012 when she won the Australian Open singles title, and she also won the same tournament in 2013. She also won the bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Azarenka has earned $6.7 million in prize money over the past 12 months, and her new deal with Nike is extremely lucrative.
11 Karrie Webb, Golf - (tie) $15 million
Australian golfer Karrie Webb has won 56 professional championships in the span of her 20-year career, 41 of them on the LPGA Tour, more than any other active player. She’s won seven major championships including two U.S. Women’s Opens, and has brought in $18.5 million in career winnings, also more than any other active player. She is considered one of the greatest players in the history of women’s golf, and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
10 Danica Patrick, Racing - $18 million
Switching gears a bit, race car driver, beauty model, and GoDaddy.com spokeswoman Danica Patrick breaks the top 10 spot. She inked endorsement deals with Coke Zero and Sega in recent months, and started racing full-time in NASCAR this year for the first time. She’s the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing, being the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race in 2008, and her third place in the 2009 Indianapolis 500 is the highest finish ever by a woman.
9 Lindsay Davenport, Tennis - (tie) $20 million
Former World No. 1 American tennis player Lindsay Davenport unofficially retired in 2011, but not before winning three Grand Slam singles tournaments and an Olympic Gold in singles. She was ranked No. 1 on eight different occasions. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2014, and she earned an estimated $22.2 million in career prize money.
8 Caroline Wozniacki, Tennis - (tie) $20 million
Scandinavian beauty Caroline Wozniacki is currently ranked No. 8 in the world of women’s tennis, though the Danish native held the No. 1 rank for 67 weeks during 2009 to 2010. She was the first woman from a Scandinavian country to hold the top ranking position, and she’s only 24 years old. She has already earned $19 million in prize money, 11th all-time, and she earns over $10 million annually from sponsors such as Adidas, Rolex, Sony Ericsson, Proactiv, and Yonex.
7 Kim Yuna, Figure Skating - $21 million
6 Annika Sörenstam, Golf - $40 million
5 Li Na, Tennis - $40 million
Despite retiring a few months ago, Chinese tennis player Li Na had a career that most people could only dream of. She was ranked No. 2 in the world on the WTA Tour on February 17, 2014, has won two Grand Slam singles titles, including a 2011 French Open victory that made her the first and only Grand Slam singles champion from Asia. That win allowed her to sign seven three-year, multi-million endorsement deals with Mercedes-Benz, Samsung Electronics, and five Chinese firms.
4 Anna Kournikova, Tennis - $50 million
Retired Russian tennis player Anna Kournikova became one of the most well-known tennis stars in the world, despite never winning a WTA singles title. At the peak of her fame, fans looking for Kournikova pictures made her one of the most searched strings on Google. She was at times the World No. 2 in doubles, and she won Grand Slam titles in Australia in 1999 and 2002 with partner Martina Hingis. Unfortunately she had to retire prematurely at age 21 due to serious back and spinal problems. Despite that, her bank account sure isn’t hurting.
3 Venus Williams, Tennis - $75 million
The elder Williams sister is a former World No. 1 in singles, having held the rank on three separate occasions. She became the first African-American woman to become No. 1 on February 25, 2002, and she is credited with changing women’s tennis to a modern era of power and athleticism. She has earned $33.2 million in prize money, which is the third highest amount of all-time for a female tennis player.
2 Maria Sharapova, Tennis - $90 million
Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, though she has been ranked No. 1 in singles on five separate occasions. She has won 33 WTA singles titles, including five Grand Slams, and is the highest grossing female athlete of 2014 according to Forbes. Her Nike deal is the most lucrative in women’s tennis, and her sales for her shoes and accessory Maria Sharapova Collection doubled in 2011. She has earned $31.8 million in career winnings, second of all-time, and she brought home about $27 million in the past 12 months alone.
1 Serena Williams, Tennis - $120 million
Perhaps the greatest tennis star of all time, Serena Williams is still ranked No. 1 in the world, a feat she has held on six separate occasions. After regaining her No. 1 status on February 18, 2013, she became the oldest player to hold No. 1 in WTA history. She holds the most Major singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles amongst any active player, male or female. She’s won 33 Major titles, and is the fifth woman ever to hold four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously.
Together with sister Venus, the pair are unbeaten in Grand Slam finals, and she has won four Olympic gold medals. She’s earned $63.5 million in career winnings, far-and-away the most by female athletes, and fourth all-time amongst tennis athletes.