He told NPR that Williams would be ranked 700th in the men’s division
During his career, and long since it has passed, John McEnroe has made a name for himself with his mouth. Now, he was a brilliant player – winning seven major titles – but the sport’s superbrat has always been flapping his gums both on and off the court. Once again, his mouth has gotten him into a little hot water. This time with Serena Williams.
McEnroe has a new book coming out later this month and he’s making the media rounds. On Sunday he stopped by NPR’s Morning Edition to talk with Lulu Garcia-Navarro, when the subject of Williams came up.
Garcia-Navarro: We're talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players. Let's talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.
McEnroe: Best female player ever — no question.
Garcia-Navarro: Some wouldn't qualify it, some would say she's the best player in the world. Why qualify it?
McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she's not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?
Garcia-Navarro: Yeah, the best tennis player in the world. You know, why say female player?
McEnroe: Well because if she was in, if she played the men's circuit she'd be like 700 in the world.
Garcia-Navarro: You think so?
McEnroe: Yeah. That doesn't mean I don't think Serena is an incredible player. I do, but the reality of what would happen would be I think something that perhaps it'd be a little higher, perhaps it'd be a little lower. And on a given day, Serena could beat some players. I believe because she's so incredibly strong mentally that she could overcome some situations where players would choke 'cause she's been in it so many times, so many situations at Wimbledon, The U.S. Open, etc. But if she had to just play the circuit — the men's circuit — that would be an entirely different story.
That quote about not being able to even crack the top 700 in men’s tennis got back to Williams and she took to Twitter today to let McEnroe know she was none to please with the sleight.
McEnroe is right that Williams wouldn’t compete well directly against the top-ranked men, as she has said herself to David Letterman a few years ago.
“For me, men’s tennis and women’s tennis are completely, almost, two separate sports,” Williams said. “If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. No, it’s true. It’s a completely different sport. The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder, it’s just a different game. I love to play women’s tennis. I only want to play girls, because I don’t want to be embarrassed.”
However, Garcia-Navarro has also taken to Twitter to ask a deeper question about athletic greatness. Do we compare men and women directly, or is greatness measured in relation to how a person performs relative to their competition? Should we say that Williams has dominated her rivals in a more convincing way than any man has dominated his?
Either way you measure it, McEnroe saying Serena would fall to 700th in the world seems a bit extreme.