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John McEnroe once said 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams would “be like 700 in the world” if she played on the men’s tennis tour.
He did, however, describe her as the “greatest women’s player in history” – something that perhaps makes his previous statement even more demoralising.
At the time, when the tennis legend made the comments back in 2017, sports fans were left infuriated – particularly Williams herself.
“Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based,” she hit back in a tweet.
“I’ve never played anyone ranked ‘there’ nor do I have time. Respect me and my privacy as I’m trying to have a baby. Good day sir”.
McEnroe’s comments came during an NPR interview, where he also said: “Perhaps [her ranking] would 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 because she’s been in it so many times, so many situations at Wimbledon, the US Open etc. But if she had to just play the circuit – the men’s circuit – that would be an entirely different story.”
He added: “Maybe at some point a women’s tennis player can be better than anybody. I just haven’t seen it in any other sport, and I haven’t seen it in tennis. I suppose anything’s possible at some stage.”
Now five years on, with the qualifiers for the 2023 Australian Open already underway – a tournament which Serena herself won seven times – it seems McEnroe won’t be present.
Usually a commentator for ESPN, this year the American broadcasting giants decided not to bring the 63-year-old Down Under for their coverage.
But while he won’t be in the commentary booth in Australia, the seven-time grand slam champion has still been on hand to give his thoughts on the upcoming tournament, eyeing 21-year-old Isa Swiatek as the favourite.
“I think right now she’s by far and away the best player, she’s a fantastic athlete, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young woman get slide into the corners, it reminds me of Novak quite a bit,” McEnroe said.
“So I would be surprised if she didn’t win a couple more French Opens at least, and she’s learned to play on hard courts so there’s no question that she’s the favourite in every tournament she plays. She’s got to be careful with her schedule, I don’t think she’ll go on 37-match winning streaks as much because now obviously people are going to be gunning for her more, but I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t win a bunch more majors.”