Tennis legend John McEnroe said Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player of all time and he’s not the slightest bit sorry for qualifying his opinion in gendered terms.
NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro recently interviewed McEnroe and the subject of Williams was brought up.
“We're talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players,” Garcia-Navarro said. “Let's talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in [your new] book.”
“Best female player ever — no question,” McEnroe replied.
“Some wouldn't qualify it, some would say she's the best player in the world. Why qualify it?” asked Garcia-Navarro.
McEnroe was stunned, and responded, “Oh! Uh, she's not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?”
Here’s the rest of the conversation:
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.
McEnroe is surprised by the stink his honesty caused.
“I didn’t know it would create controversy. I’ve said this 1,000 times,” said McEnroe. “I don’t want anything to go wrong with Serena because she’s pregnant, I don’t want to upset her. I think she’s doing it tongue-in-cheek as well and I think deep down we’re talking about something … I can’t even believe we’re talking about it.”
He later appeared on CBS This Morning and was asked to apologize, but he wouldn’t. Co-host Charlie Rose started in asking him why it was “necessary” to bring gender into the mix. McEnroe said he thought NPR was a place you can “say it like it is,” but how wrong he was. Honest opinions don’t get you very far in this politically correct culture.
Next, co-host Norah O’Donnell leaned in and asked, “Would you like to apologize?”
“Uh, no!” McEnroe said bluntly.
He then turned to co-host Gayle King, who is friends with Williams, and offered a solution:
“Why don’t you combine — just solve the problem, I’m sure the men would be all for this — the men and women play together and then we don’t have to guess!”
Williams seemed miffed by the ordeal and asked to be left alone via Twitter:
But here’s what Williams said just four years ago to David Letterman, as noted by Legal Insurrection:
“For me, men’s tennis and women’s tennis are completely, almost, two separate sports. 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.”
For the record, McEnroe, 58, ranked himself at somewhere around 1,200 in the world.