Home Blog World Fame 100 — Who are the 25 most famous women athletes? – ESPN – ESPN

World Fame 100 — Who are the 25 most famous women athletes? – ESPN – ESPN


ESPN today released its third-annual World Fame 100, which ranks the 100 most famous athletes on the planet, and we at espnW wanted to celebrate. Because who doesn’t think of glitz, glam and twinkling bright lights when fame comes to mind?
And more importantly, what’s an espnW World Fame celebration without some badass women?
We used ESPN’s proprietary formula, which derives its ranking through Google Trend scores, endorsement dollars and social media followings, to find the 25 most famous women athletes in the world, the first 12 of whom appear on the full World Fame 100. Some names you’ll recognize, others might be a bit surprising. Some sign multimillion-dollar endorsement deals, others appear on magazine covers. But they all have one thing in common: They dominate their sport.
So pop a bottle of expensive champagne, put on your red-carpet best and check our ranking of the world’s 25 most famous women athletes.
(For a full methodology, scroll to the end.)
In the 14 months between her last match of 2017 (when she picked up Grand Slam title No. 23) and her return to the WTA from maternity leave in March 2018, Serena Williams, who ranks No. 12 on the World Fame 100, remained the most visible player in tennis. Ranked No. 1 in the world for the 319th week of her career before taking leave, she appeared on the covers of Vanity Fair (naked and pregnant), Brides (in two of her three — yes, three — wedding gowns) and Vogue (with daughter Olympia), chatted with Gayle King at a TED conference in Vancouver, penned an article on the gender pay gap for Fortune, shot an HBO documentary due out in May, and married Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in a New Orleans wedding to rival the royals. Her next act: collect two more Slams and finish the fairy tale. — Alyssa Roenigk
In April 2017, Maria Sharapova returned to professional tennis — thanks to wild cards into tourneys in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome — after serving a 15-month doping suspension. While her peers complained publicly that the five-time Grand Slam champ and former world No. 1 shouldn’t be rewarded with main-draw entry into top-tier tournaments, Sharapova, No. 21 on the World Fame 100, didn’t snap back, saying she preferred to “walk the walk.” In the fall, after getting her first Grand Slam match win in 19 months, against No. 2 seed Simona Halep at the US Open, she released a memoir that reached No. 7 on the New York Times best-seller list. In November, the 30-year-old Russian traveled to Puerto Rico to aid in relief efforts after Hurricane Maria devastated the island and donated revenue from her candy company, Sugarpova, to a relief fund. Call this a brand-rebuilding year — Alyssa Roenigk
Despite playing bridesmaid at the 2017 Aussie Open, Wimbledon and WTA Finals — and in little sister Serena’s wedding in November — Venus Williams experienced a resurgence on the court, playing some of the consistently best tennis of her career. At 37, she’s ranked No. 8 in the world and is the highest-ranked American woman on tour. Her dominant victory over Serena in the third round of Indian Wells in March was must-see TV, but so was her shocking loss in the semis. With each victory, Venus, World Fame 100’s No. 48, is defeating more than Grand Slam champs — she’s conquering time, an autoimmune disorder and expectations, all while running an activewear brand (EleVen) and a design firm. Just don’t expect the notoriously terse Williams to explain how she does any of it. — Alyssa Roenigk
Saina Nehwal is so good at badminton that even a career-threatening knee injury — one she suffered at the Rio Olympics in 2016 — couldn’t keep her from dominating. Mere months after subsequent surgeries, she won a second consecutive bronze at the 2017 world championship. And as her knee improved, so did her results. Nehwal, ranked 50th on the World Fame 100, went on to beat world No. 3 P.V. Sindhu in the Indian national badminton championship in November. Then, at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, she nabbed gold in the badminton singles event and helped India win its first team event. So great is her contribution to Indian sport that a biopic is in the works — an honor she shares with cricket legends Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni, among others. — Aishwarya Kumar
Forty-three. That’s the number of Grand Slam tournaments it took for the current world No. 2 to hoist the Australian Open trophy, which she did in January, becoming the first Danish player to win a grand slam singles title and returning to world No. 1 for the first time in six years. The outspoken Caroline Wozniacki returned the ranking to Simona Halep four weeks later, but not before becoming only the fourth player in WTA history to pass the $30 million mark in career earnings. After struggling with injuries for much of 2016 and ’17, Wozniacki, 27, and No. 66 on the World Fame 100, is back to winning form, engaged to former NBA player David Lee, an “auntie” to bestie Serena’s daughter, Alexis Olympia, and in March, was named No. 8 on Forbes list of the most powerful women in international sports — the highest-ranked athlete on the list. — Alyssa Roenigk
The 25th woman to hold the world No. 1 ranking — which Simona Halep first reached in October 2017 — is still searching for her first Slam. She’s come close, making the finals at Roland Garros for the second time last June and playing runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki at the Aussie Open in January. Armed with an improved serve with cranked mph, Halep, 77th on the World Fame 100, has seen two semifinals since playing without a sponsor in Melbourne – and she signed with Nike in February. A fan favorite and two-time WTA Most Popular Player of the Year, the 26-year-old is a power player at home in Romania, where her growing real estate portfolio includes a four-star hotel in the Romanian ski resort of Poiana Brasov and hotels in Constanta, Brasov and Mamaia. — Alyssa Roenigk
The face of U.S. women’s soccer found success overseas last year, the Women’s French Cup and the UEFA Women’s Champions League in the 2016-17 season. The 28-year-old forward, who will likely become the seventh American woman (and 17th woman ever) to score 100 goals, closed out 2017 by scoring seven goals in 14 matches for Team USA. While Alex Morgan, who is No. 88 on the World Fame 100, made headlines for her electrifying on-field finishes, she also made waves for getting kicked out of Disney World in October. Morgan’s empire is only building, though. In April it was announced she would star in a soccer movie called “Alex and Me,” which comes out in June. — Sean Hurd
After making a name for herself at the Rio Olympics through her candid-yet-unorthodox demeanor, Fu Yuanhui had a humble 2017 in the pool, narrowly missing the 50m backstroke title by a one-hundreth of a second and failing to making the 100m final at the FINA World Championships in Budapest. Fu, 22, and 89th on the World Fame 100, became an internet sensation in Rio by speaking her mind on TV interviews and blurting out phrases that raised many eyebrows. Fans loved her for keeping it real, a defiant counter to the age-old stoical image of Chinese athletes in front of the world. — Kevin Wang
There was not a spare seat in the Pyeongchang auditorium when Lindsey Vonn conducted her first news conference of the 2018 Winter Olympics. She walked in, clutching her dog, Lucy. Vonn, World Fame 100’s No. 95, was one of the box office stars of this year’s Games, and the most-talented female skier of her generation returned a bronze in the downhill, having suffered a treasure trove of breaks, fractures and tears since she won gold in 2010. It was an Olympics driven by pressure to finish on a high, but also emotion after the death of her grandfather three months earlier. Her Games finished appropriately by scattering some of her late grandfather’s ashes on a rock near the downhill course near where she put together her bronze-medal run. — Tom Hamilton
For Michelle Wie, 28, the majority of her life has been spent in the golf limelight. Once deemed a teen phenom and potential PGA Tour contender at the age of 13, Wie is no stranger to fame (she’s ranked 97th on the World Fame 100). Six days before her 16th birthday, Wie shed her amateur status and turned pro, instantly becoming the world’s highest-paid female golfer. Since joining the LPGA Tour in 2009, the Hawaii native has claimed five LPGA victories, including a major, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open. But Wie struggled after her major victory and failed to cash in a first-place prize until her most recent 2018 HSBC Women’s World Championship. Despite her ups-and-downs on tour, one thing has remained constant: her lucrative and longtime sponsor, Nike. Not to mention that Wie and her LPGA friends are giving Fowler and his Spring Break crew a run for the money — see #SB2k18. — Charlotte Gibson
Victoria Azarenka, a new mother flush with motivation and a deeper sense of responsibility, was raring to go as the 2017 grass-court season opened. But a court order arising from a custody battle with her infant son’s father stopped the Belarusian in her tracks after just two events (she was 4-2, with two victories at Wimbledon). Unable by law to travel with son Leo, Azarenka chose not to travel at all. The custody case is ongoing. Azarenka, 28, and No. 98 on the World Fame 100, joined Serena Williams to lobby tennis officials to provide greater maternity support in the way of protected rankings and seedings. — Peter Bodo
Sania Mirza has seen the good — and bad — sides of fame. When she started out, she was endeavoring to become the first Muslim woman to play tennis professionally in India. This meant dealing with relentless criticism: Her tennis skirt was too small, she had too much makeup on, she was too career-oriented. Despite it all, she succeeded on the court and off. Mirza, rounding out the World Fame 100 at No. 100, was named United Nations Women’s Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia and, in 2016, was named in Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the world list. Mirza is attracting more attention than ever with the announcement of her pregnancy with husband and former Pakistani cricket captain, Shoaib Malik. — Aishwarya Kumar
The reigning Wimbledon champ and the No. 3 player in the world is Spain’s only representation on espnW’s list of the 25 most famous women athletes. Muguruza toppled Venus Williams in last year’s Wimbledon final in straight sets, capturing her second Grand Slam, after winning the French Open in 2016. Her success on the court has translated to high-profile appearances and endorsements off the court: She walked the red carpet of the 2018 Oscars wearing Spanish designer Hannibal Laguna, became the face of Grammy Award-winning musician Pharrell Williams’ 2017 retro-inspired tennis line for Adidas and, alongside Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber, signed on as one of Rolex’s Leading Sportswomen. — Laura M. Purtell
The on- and off-track fame of Danica Patrick, the only woman to win an IndyCar Series race, has been well documented over the past decade (see: GoDaddy ads, high-profile relationship with Aaron Rodgers). Now, as her driving career comes to an end — she’ll retire after her last Indy 500 race this month — Patrick is diving head-first into her lifestyle brand. Her new book, “Pretty Intense,” which details her “90-day mind, body and food plan,” dropped in December, and she told espnW she’d like to focus on her wine brand (Somnium) and clothing brand (Warrior) and start a cooking show in retirement. — Laura M. Purtell
To anyone not yet familiar with Ding Ning, allow us to introduce you: She was a member of the gold medal-winning table tennis team from China at the 2012 London Olympics, where she also took home silver for the singles event. She won the 2011, 2015 and the 2017 World Table Tennis Championships in singles, as well as the 2011 and 2014 World Cup. (Her medal count gets borderline unwieldy when you start counting her team accolades too.) And according to ESPN’s ranking, she’s the most famous woman table-tennis player in China, with more than 2 million followers on Weibo, one of China’s biggest social media platforms. — Laura M. Purtell
With partner Scott Moir, Canadian ice dancer Tessa Virtue became figure skating’s most decorated Olympian by securing two more gold medals at the Pyeongchang Games. Their steamy free dance to “Moulin Rouge” set the internet ablaze with fevered speculation about whether the two are a couple in real life, a question Ellen DeGeneres tackled head-on in an interview on her show. (Sorry, world, they said no.) Since the Olympics, Virtue and Moir have been enjoying a victory lap around Canada, touring with Stars on Ice, hanging out with Drake at a Raptors game and making plans for the future. Let’s all hope it’s with each other! — Elaine Teng
Simone Biles made her World Fame 100 debut at No. 48 last year — not a surprise, given the high-flying gymnast had won gold in vault, floor and the all-around at the Rio Olympics just nine months prior. (She also helped Team USA take home gold.) Though she’s fallen from the Top 100 in 2018, she has partnered with Target and Always to become a spokesperson for Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that helps young girls gain confidence and life skills through running. She gave herself a year of rest after Rio (“no less, no more,” she told espnW’s Alyssa Roenigk) and hired a new coach (“change is good”). Now her sights are set on the 2020 Games in Tokyo. — Laura M. Purtell
In a country where Saina Nehwal is treated as the badminton queen, it’s easy for a younger player to get lost in the shuffle. But World No. 3 P.V. Sindhu, 22, is making sure that doesn’t happen. Her medal tally does the talking: silver at the Rio Olympics, silver at the 2017 World Championship, and gold and silver at the 2017 Commonwealth Games. The Indian government awarded her some of the highest sports and civilian awards (Arjuna Award, Padma Shri and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award) in the history of the country. And she’s making heads turn off the court, too. As of 2017, she’s ranked No. 2 on the list of the highest-paid Indian athletes in endorsements — only behind Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli, who’s No. 11 on the World Fame 100 — earning about $7.3 million, according to the Economic Times . — Aishwarya Kumar
It was a rough 2017 for the then-world No. 1 German, making shocking first-round exits at the French Open and US Open (she dropped out of the top 10 shortly thereafter). But after last season, she hired a new coach, Belgian Wim Fissette, and is turning a corner. She reached the semifinal of the Australian Open, playing her way back toward the top 10. And despite her drop in form, she was still one of the highest-paid tennis players in the world in 2017, with $12.6 million in total earnings and $7.6 million in prize money, according to Forbes. Already an endorser of Adidas and Yonex, Kerber signed with Rolex in 2017 and was named one of the ambassadors for UNICEF. — Aishwarya Kumar
Talk about an Olympic moment. Sixteen-year-old Russian Alina Zagitova became the youngest figure skater since Tara Lipinski to win when she pipped training partner Evgenia Medvedeva for the gold in Pyeongchang. Her parents had her future in mind when they named her after Alina Kabaeva, the Russian rhythmic gymnast who won gold in Athens. (Side note: Kabaeva is also rumored to be Vladimir Putin’s girlfriend.) Zagitova has since met Putin, who awarded her with the Order of Friendship for her accomplishments in Korea. — Elaine Teng
The 29-year-old Agnieszka Radwanska did not have her best season on the court in 2017, suffering from foot injuries for a large part of the year. With a 25-18 record, she finished the season at No. 28, her worst performance since 2006. Despite her lukewarm performance on court (she’s had a slow start to 2018 after sustaining a back injury ahead of the French Open), she’s been busy off the court. She married her long-term partner and tennis player Dawid Celt in a Polish church last year, with close friends Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber in attendance. — Aishwarya Kumar
Expectations were so high for the 18-year-old Russian that a silver medal at Pyeongchang could only be seen as a disappointment. Evgenia Medvedeva had been undefeated in international competition for more than two years until she suffered a foot injury just two months before the Olympics. When she lost the gold medal to younger training partner Alina Zagitova, then 15, Medvedeva put on a brave face. But in May, she announced she was splitting with her longtime coach, who also trains Zagitova. Off the ice, Medvedeva is a self-proclaimed anime and K-pop fan: She’s skated in a Sailor Moon outfit, tweets about her favorite shows — including figure skating anime series Yuri on Ice — and, most important for her, met K-pop band EXO at the closing ceremonies. — Elaine Teng
Aly Raisman is no longer just a six-time Olympic gold medalist and captain of the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams. Since November, when she appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to reveal that she was a victim of convicted sexual predator Larry Nassar, Raisman has become the face and voice of gymnasts who suffered abuse at his hands. “This group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time are now a force, and you are nothing,” she told Nassar at his sentencing hearing in January. She didn’t stop there. In March, Raisman sued the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, claiming both organizations “knew or should have known” about abusive patterns by the disgraced former national team doctor, who’s now in prison. “I refuse to wait any longer for these organizations to do the right thing,” Raisman said in a statement at the time. “It is my hope that the legal process will hold them accountable and enable the change that is so desperately needed.” Raisman is finding her voice, and then some. — Laura M. Purtell
Ahead of a UFC Fight Night in December 2016, Paige VanZant wasn’t discussing her upcoming bout with Michelle Waterson. Instead, the flyweight was primarily asked about her recent appearance on “Dancing with the Stars.” “Nobody asked Antonio Brown or Von Miller if they were going back to the NFL [after being on DWTS],” she told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto at the time. “Maybe it’s a stereotypical thing, because I’m a girl in something I don’t necessarily belong in? I’ll take it as a compliment. I do belong in Hollywood, but I also belong in the UFC.” VanZant is 7-4 after two consecutive losses — one to Waterson, and the next by unanimous decision to Jessica-Rose Clark in January 2018. (VanZant broke her arm in the first round of that bout … and still went on to finish the three-round fight.) Outside of the Octagon, VanZant has been promoting her book, “Rise: Surviving the Fight of My Life,” in which she says she was sexually assaulted when she was 14 years old. — Laura M. Purtell
Jwala Gutta, 34, has represented India in the international arena for more than 15 years. She’s won medals for India at the World and Asian Championships and made India care about doubles badminton. So it only made sense that, in 2017, she decided to take on an added role: She was named to the Badminton Association of India’s (BAI) coaches panel that guides women’s doubles. She has yet to retire, but she says she’s already thinking of ways to improve the status of doubles badminton in India. Outside badminton, Gutta is known for her outspoken remarks — she’s called out the BAI and Indian government for discrimination, and when she is not fighting for her rights, she fights for women’s rights and animal rights. — Aishwarya Kumar
The Methodology:
To find the 100 most famous athletes in the world, we started with 600 of the biggest names in sports, drawn from 67 countries. ESPN’s Sports Analytics Group then ranked them based on a proprietary formula that took into account three fame factors: (1) Google Trend score, which measures how often a name is searched, using Cristiano Ronaldo’s score of 100 as a baseline; (2) endorsement dollars — our sources ranged from Forbes to ESPN contributors such as Darren Rovell; (3) social media following on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Since not all athletes are on every platform, we used only the number from their most popular account. So if an athlete had 2 million Instagram followers but his or her other accounts had only 1 million followers, the social media score was 2 million.
Easy, right? Now for the fine print: If we could not find accurate endorsement figures, we estimated an athlete’s endorsement dollars based on the search, social and endorsement data for all athletes under review; for Chinese athletes, we used the Baidu search score and the Weibo social numbers because Google and Western social platforms have been blocked in China. If an athlete had no confirmed social media account, we marked a “0” for social media. Our deadline for all underlying metrics was March 19; the currency conversions were done by that date.



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