The results are in, and it appears that if you want to make a living as a professional female athlete, you should play tennis or golf.
Forbes published its annual ranking of the world’s highest-paid female athletes for 2022 on Thursday, with Naomi Osaka ($51.5 million) and Serena Williams ($41.3 million) atop the list.
They were joined by ten other professional tennis players and seven golfers, for a total of $223.9 million in earnings for 19 tennis and golf stars. Tennis players earned $189.9 million more than any other professional athlete group.
It seems natural that Williams, widely regarded as the greatest women’s singles player of all time, would finish second to Osaka, regarded as tennis’ next generation’s star.
The fact that Williams continues to command so much in endorsement deals demonstrates her power even as she transitions — or “evolves” — away from the game, as she announced she would do after the 2022 U.S. Open.
Tennis players dominate the list, thanks in part to Venus Williams, the elder of the Williams sisters and a longtime advocate for pay equity.
“Wimbledon has sent me a message: I’m only a second class champion… the time has come for it to do the right thing: pay men and women equal prize money,” Venus wrote in The Times of London in 2006. “The message I like to convey to women and girls across the globe is that there is no glass ceiling. Wimbledon, I fear, is loudly and clearly sending the opposite message.”
In 2007, she became the first woman to benefit from the change, earning the same prize money as that year’s men’s champion, Roger Federer (700,000 pounds, about $1.4 million at the time).
Venus has stated that winning that fight was her most satisfying victory, even more so than her seven individual Grand Slam titles. Since Venus turned pro in 1994, endorsement deals for professional women’s athletes have skyrocketed.
Other noteworthy points:
The majority of women made the majority of their money off the field, with four exceptions: tennis players Iga Witek, Ons Jabeur, and Caroline Garcia, and golfer Minjee Lee.
Two soccer players made the list, which is fitting given that Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe were both instrumental in the USWNT’s victory over equal pay earlier this year.
Candace Parker, a basketball player, was the only one to make the list. Parker, a Chicago Sky All-Star, spends her offseason yukking it up with the “Inside the NBA” guys on TNT, occasionally offering in-game analysis for NBA games.
For years, fans and media have panned the WNBA for its notoriously low salaries, which were highlighted this year when Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained in Russia for nearly ten months. Griner, a two-time Olympian and member of the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested and accused of having hash oil in her luggage while returning to her Moscow-area team. Griner, like many of the WNBA’s top players, had spent nearly a decade in Russia during the offseason, where women can earn significantly more money than in the United States.
Skiing gold medalist Eileen Gu and gymnast Simone Biles, both Olympic darlings, made the list, ranking in the top ten.
P.V. Sindhu, an Indian badminton champion and certified celebrity in her home country, was perhaps the biggest surprise on the list. Pickleball stars were conspicuously absent, despite the sport’s rapid rise in popularity across America.