John McEnroe has never shied away from controversy during his Hall of Fame playing career. Johnny Mac was equally known for his confrontational style and emotional outbursts as his seven grand slam titles.
In retirement, the 58-year-old McEnroe is still outspoken, and in a recent interview with NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro, when he was asked if Serena Williams is the best tennis player in the world of either gender, McEnroe took exception.
If she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.”
McEnroe also said he could still beat a pregnant Williams if the two faced off in a modern version of The Battle of the Sexes. Ok, John.
Here’s the transcript via NPR:
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.
Garcia-Navarro: Many people over the years, including, we should mention Donald Trump, the President, wanted you to play her, and you seemed to have at least thought about it.
McEnroe: Well I’ve thought about it. I didn’t really want to do it, personally. I don’t know, people always seemed — I would say why don’t they go ask Roger Federer? Or someone, you know they added the old fart that’s you know 25 years over the hill. And I think I can still play and I think I could still — I mean my kids don’t think I can beat her anymore. Maybe I should get her now because she’s pregnant, but the truth is that I think that sometimes —I don’t know why in tennis, I get it’s that one battle of the sexes when Bobby Riggs played Billie Jean.
Garcia-Navarro: Billie Jean one of the most famous, iconic and most watched, I think tennis matches at the time.
McEnroe: Yeah, it was no question. I think there was the most, the biggest attendance at the Houston Astrodome, and it was great that Billie Jean did that but…OK, but that doesn’t mean, talk about other sports. If you go look at the times, for example, of the world’s fastest females — and you know maybe it will change! You know my daughter, one the things she says is ‘You’re a feminist, Dad.’ OK. I started with two boys, I got four girls now and I’m all for it and I’m trying to just get with it and figure it out.
Audio of the interview. McEnroe’s Serena Williams comments start at 6:30.