John McEnroe is not one to hold back. He never has been, he likely never will. So when he was asked recently about a line in his upcoming memoir where he says that there’s “no question” Serena Williams is the best female tennis player ever, he had no problem explaining the inclusion of the qualifier in his statement, that she’s the best female tennis player ever.
“Well, because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit, she’d be like 700 in the world,” McEnroe said.
McEnroe, who was being interviewed by NPR, promoting But Seriously, continued, admitting that Williams is “an incredible player.”
“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.”
This is not the first time that McEnroe has praised Williams, but done so with a caveat. In September of 2015, during the 2015 US Open, McEnroe was asked about Williams and said “She’s the greatest female player I’ve ever seen,” McEnroe told BBC Sport. “She’s proven it to me over and over.”
Williams won the tournament the year earlier, her sixth time winning it. Her win in 2014 was the third year in a row she had won at Flushing Meadow. McEnroe, back in his playing days, won the US Open four times, in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1984.
“I think Serena is one of the all-time greatest athletes, period,” McEnroe added at the time. “Man or woman.”
It’s hard to make sense of McEnroe’s comments and the hedging he seems to employ – one minute saying she’s the best female ever and the next saying she’s one of the greatest regardless of gender. What isn’t hard to make sense of is Williams’ success. Since the 2015 US Open, in which Williams was upset by Roberta Vinci of Italy, Williams has been a runner-up at the 2016 Australian Open and French Open, won the 2017 Australian Open and won twice at Wimbledon (2015, 2016.) Williams is sitting out Wimbledon in 2017, as she is pregnant with her first child.
Why should it even matter if Williams is a woman anyway? Sports, more than anything else, is governed largely by one metric: winning. Who you beat is an in-the-moment argument that usually fades away over time or is generally dismissed because yes, winning is all that matters. It’s not up to you who you play, it’s up to you to beat them, which is what Williams has done, time and time again.
Winning means greatness and that should trump the gender of who is doing the winning. Serena Williams is one of the greatest winners ever to play the play the sport of tennis. She’s won Wimbledon 7 times, the US Open 6 times and the French Open 3 times. On top of that, she’s won fourteen women’s doubles’ titles, playing along side her sister Venus and has won 4 gold medals at three different Olympics.
Serena Williams is a proven winner, one of the best winners ever. She deserves better than to be hamstrung by unnecessary quantifiers and people saying she’s a great female player.
Williams responded to McEnroe’s statements via Twitter Monday evening.