In light of the controversy regarding John McEnroe claiming that Serena Williams – who’s won 23 Grand Slams – would only be ranked No. 700 in the ATP, Inside Tennis Publisher Bill Simons had the following dialogue with the iconic McEnroe, as part of an ESPN press conference:
INSIDE TENNIS: John, congratulations on your book [entitled “But Seriously”] – it looks good. I did want to talk a little bit about the Serena situation. Critics says that with women’s tennis in general and Serena in particular there’s a certain prejudice, that there’s always a qualifier. We know the history with the Indian Wells crowd, and [then] the tournament director saying women should get down on their knees in gratitude, and also people [Russian Fed Cup coach Shamil Tarpsichev] referring to the “Williams brothers” or [Ilie Nastase] saying that she’s going to have a kid that is “chocolate with milk.” People were saying your comment came on the heels of all this. So why not just say that Serena’s a great player, a great pioneer, and leave it at that, rather than sort of having the qualifier?
JOHN MCENROE: I suppose that would have been an avenue. I was asked a question, I was just talking about Serena, and I said, “Look, obviously if it wasn’t for Serena, American tennis would even be in a lot deeper trouble, and she, in my opinion, is the greatest female player ever,” and then the lady said, “Why not say the greatest player ever?” So it sort of took me aback, because I wasn’t quite sure of what she was saying, but I’m sure that perhaps it would have been easier just to sort of have left it, “Look, she’s a great player, and it’s apples and oranges.”
IT: I read the transcript, and I agree with you that you seemed to be a little caught off-guard, but now would you consider saying, “Hey, we shouldn’t even really talk about where she ranks in the ATP, and she stands alone,” instead of doubling down on it?
JM: We’ve had these conversations fairly often, as Pam [Shriver] said in the beginning [of this press conference]. Occasionally these things come up and a lot of people weigh in on whatever they’re feeling. People don’t have to agree with my opinion, and maybe it was wrong – maybe it would have been better not to have said it. And I wish would have – I didn’t realize that it would create something like this.
Maybe it’s better if it hadn’t been said, because I have a lot of respect for Serena and she’s been great for the game. I think people who know me know that. That’s really what it boils down to…It was just an opinion…just my opinion.