While promoting his new book on NPR last weekend, McEnroe, the retired seven-time Grand Slam-winning tennis player, said Williams is the best female player ever, but, “If she played the men’s circuit, she’d be like 700 in the world.”
Some saw that as disrespectful.
McEnroe, now a tennis analyst known for his brutal honesty, was asked on “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday if he wanted to apologize. He said no.
Serena Williams, who is seen posing pregnant on the cover of the latest Vanity Fair, reponded on Twitter, saying: “Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based.”
“I’ve never played anyone ranked ‘there’ nor do I have time,” she also wrote. “Respect me and my privacy as I’m trying to have a baby. Good day sir.”
McEnroe admitted that his comments about Williams were not necessary, and said, “I didn’t know it would create controversy.”
On the tennis courts of New York City, McEnroe’s commments varied on the spectrum of outrage, CBS2’s Steve Overmyer reported.
“It’s stupid,” said Nan Mooney, of Washington, D.C. “Clearly, her performance speaks for itself.”
“I definitely see it being a little disrespectful,” said Derric Meister, of Harlem. “Maybe just the question of comparing men to women in general, especially for an individual sport, is not fair in the first place.”
“It’s just sort of rallying up an old argument that I think we all hoped we moved beyond,” Mooney added.
She’s, of course, referring to the famous “Battle of the Sexes,” when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs. But comparisons between women and men are something Williams herself once touched upon on the “Late Show with David Letterman” four years ago.
“For me, men’s 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. … Men are a lot faster, and they serve harder, they hit harder. It’s just a different game.”
Incidentally, Williams has played a ranked men’s player. In 1998, she took on the 203rd-ranked player on the men’s circuit, Karsten Braasch of Germany, and lost 6-1.