Serena Williams Would Rank ‘No. 700’ if She Played Against Men, Says John McEnroe

Williams responds to McEnroe’s sexist comments that question her ability to defeat pro tennis players in the men’s circuit.

Tennis star Serena Williams is superb in defending herself on the tennis court, and it seems defending herself against sexist and racist banter off the court has become second nature.

Monday night, Williams, who is ranked No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association, and has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and several Olympic gold medals, had to check former tennis pro John McEnroe on Twitter because in an interview he questioned her ability to defeat professional men’s tennis players.

“If she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world,” McEnroe said.

Williams tweeted:

McEnroe, 58, is a former tennis champion who is one of the leading titleholders of all time, and also known for his temperamental outbursts. When he was 20, he was nicknamed “Superbrat” by the British tabloids, according to ESPN.

In a recent interview with NPR, journalist Lulu Garcia-Navarro asked McEnroe about his mention of Williams in his new book.

“We’re talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players,” she said. “Let’s talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.”

“Best female player ever — no question,” McEnroe replied.

“Some wouldn’t qualify it, some would say she’s the best player in the world. Why qualify it?” Garcia-Navarro said.

“Oh! Uh, she’s not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?” he replied.

“Yeah, the best tennis player in the world,” Garcia-Navarro said. “You know, why say female player?”

“Well because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world,” McEnroe said.

He then goes on to explain his answer:

“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.”

Tuesday on “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell asked McEnroe whether he’d like to apologize. And he replied, “No.”

Williams, 35, is engaged to Alexis Ohanian, 33, the co-founder of Reddit. She said April 19 on Snapchat that the two are expecting their first child.

Also in April, she had to publicly respond to former French and U.S. Open champion Ilie Nastase’s racist remarks about the couple’s unborn baby.

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The tennis great joins an initiative to economically empower victims of domestic abuse.

Williams continues to stand up for herself and for women at-large. She announced last week that she is the new ambassador for Allstate Foundation Purple Purse.

The tennis star intends to raise awareness of the often-invisible role economic abuse plays in keeping women in abusive relationships. Allstate (is No. 33 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) began the foundation in 2005 to provide financial empowerment to domestic abuse victims.

McEnroe’s sexist comments are comparable to Raymond Moore’s remarks last year about women.

Moore resigned from his position of CEO and tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open following comments, such women tennis players “should be down on their knees” to show gratitude to men.

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Raymond Moore said women tennis pros “ride on the coattails of men.”

“When I come back in my next life I want to be someone in the [Women’s Tennis Association] because they ride on the coattails of the men,” Moore said.

“If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport.”

Williams publicly shunned his statements:

“Obviously I don’t think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that,” Williams said. “I think Venus, myself, a number of players — if I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister — I couldn’t even bring up that number. So I don’t think that is a very accurate statement.”

She added, “I think there is a lot of women out there who are more — are very exciting to watch. I think there are a lot of men who are exciting to watch. I think it definitely goes both ways. I think those remarks are very much mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate.”

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  • I love Serena Williams and she is the GOAT Women’s tennis player. I’m also pretty liberal but it seems articles like this give the right reason to discredit women’s rights, as well as show us as being wacky. There is nothing sexist about what McEnroe wrote at all. This is just an attempt to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

  • I think it’s really interesting that Lulu Garcia-Navarro pressed him to try to make McEnroe call Serena Williams the best player – not just the best female player.

    Clearly, Serena is in a class by herself as a female tennis player. She’s an unbelievably good athlete.

    But does anyone expect that she would routinely compete – and win – playing against the likes of Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal? For the record, I don’t. And unless she could beat the best men, she really wouldn’t be the best, would she????

    I’m no MeEnroe fan, but I don’t think he was trying to disrespect her. He was pressed for an answer, and he gave his honest opinion.

    I’d be interested to hear form someone who thinks she’d routinely beat the best male players……

      • McEnroe is a jerk, many great athletes are. And in this case, the jerk’s correct. Most of the Sports Illustrated type conventional wisdom I hear on air or online contends that most any big state’s high school boy’s champs could beat the Connecticut Lady Huskies, and any men’s division March Madness team could rule the Women’s National Basketball Association. Like in drag racing, there just ain’t no substitute for cubic inches (of muscle).

        (And if the Queen had male genitalia, she could still identify and live as Queen in today’s diverse world, hayna? Or no?)

        • The Women’s national Soccer team has no female peer in the US so they must play men…or rather boys. They scrimmage against the top boys club teams in America. Against under 15 boys club teams they regularly loose. Against under 14 boys club teams they regularly win. That doesn’t discredit them or make their game less entertaining. Men are faster, more powerful and stronger…that doesn’t make them more entertaining.

      • I never said McEnroe’s not a jerk. He has acted like a jerk for decades.

        But…… In this article, he was consistently pressed to give his opinion on if Serena is the best player – male or female – and he said no.

        On that point, I happen to agree with him. I suspect that the number 1 male player would beat her handily. I could be wrong, but that is what I suspect.

        SO LUKE…. QUESTION: Serena Williams against roger Federer (both being healthy): WHO WINS??????

        • Good question. Having watched both men and women at thr US Open, women seem to be the better all around athletes, having to actually play, rather than attempt to match the male one-trick-pony routine of trying to return rediculously fast serves.

          If Serena learned to return those serves, I think she would win.

          • Do we know that Serena does not know how to return those serves? I assume that the speed of tennis serves — just like the speed of baseball pitches — is measurable. I also assume that the force with which a ball is hit — assuming that makes a difference (although it may just be a function of velocity) — is also measurable. Likewise, a player’s ability to move around the court to field various shots. It would be interesting to see how Serena’s numbers compare to the top male competitors. I don’t claim to be a tennis expert, but Serena appears to “break the mold” of traditional female players.

          • I LOVE tennis and have played for over 2 decades and follow the sport. I think at the height of both their careers, Roger and Serena, that it really would depend on which surface, whether she’s able to return his serve consistently and just both their mental toughness on the day. While not a completely physical, there is that to consider. Put her up against Federer or Djokovic for that matter, it’s hard to say. I think that one’s a tough call. She’s not a one trick pony and she’s got a great all around game but so do they. She’d need to do what Nadal does to Federer’s backhand which is where he found a lot of success. Djokovic to me is almost a better all around player in some regards than Federer except he used to go a bit off on the mental side of things. It would be a grind no matter which she played but if the conditions were right, pick the right surface, I think it would be interesting and I think she could win. Lots of factors to consider.

            Bobby Riggs vs. Billie Jean King, he was not in his prime and I wouldn’t have given him odds to beat her either but it was nice that she won if just to shut him up. :)

          • Make Federer serve underhand and she still wouldn’t get a game. Give her the alleys and she might win a couple. McEnroe would beat her right now.

  • Gee, that sounds like what Bobby Riggs was saying about Billie Jean King before she beat him in the so-called “Battle of the Sexes.” Perhaps McEnroe would like to put his money where his mouth is and play Serena?

    • Why not have Serena challenge the 10th best male tennis player and
      see how she does.
      Bobby Riggs was a 55 year old man.

      • Better yet, the 700th, since that’s the one to whom she was compared! :-)

    • This would only prove that an AMAZING athlete and tennis player (Serena) would beat an old guy. Boring.

      But….. If Serena said she’d be aiming for him, I would definitely watch! It’d be entertaining to see him get sizzled a few times. :-)

      • Sure, McEnroe is “an old guy.” But, I guarantee that he would claim that he is better than the 700th-seeded man, which is who he compared Serena to! The Billie Jean King – Bobby Riggs match was anything but boring and was a BFD, watched by millions! :-)

        • Riggs (then 55) challenged Margaret Court, 30 years old and the top female player in the world. In their May 13, 1973, Mother’s Day match his easy 6–2, 6–1 victory landed Riggs on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and Time magazine. The match was called the “Mother’s Day Massacre”. There is strong evidence that Riggs threw the King match to rid himself of gambling debts to the mob. Bobby Riggs wouldn’t be in the top 3000 tennis players of all time. Riggs at his best couldn’t compete on todays tennis circuit.

  • I’m an avid tennis watcher and player and I love how Serena Williams responded to McEnroe’s comments. She has been one of the most consistent players in the sport, and she’s had staying power. We don’t know how a woman would fair against the men’s professional tour because it just hasn’t happened. There are tons of things to consider such as the equipment, physicality and mental toughness of you versus your opponent and just how are you playing on that day. Tennis is a very mental sport, it’s not just about the physical. I think Serena’s a phenomenal player with a fabulous record and she will go down in history as, if not the best player ever, certainly in the top 3 or 5. McEnroe has made sexist comments in the past and will do so again in the future. Having watched and studied the game at the height of their tennis best, I don’t know who would win but I LOVE her chances to beat him. Great serve, very fast, mentally and physically tough, loves a target, hits mean passing shots..that match I would pay to have seen. :)

  • Few people in the history of sport have so completely dominated their professional as Serena. JM is just an ass. What he said was so completely unnecessary and just provocative. I guess this is his way of trying to stay relevant in a sport that has passed him by. In addition to achieving far more than he ever did, she also completely out classes him. I always find it so disappointing when past athletes belittle the accomplishments of great modern achievers…men or women.

  • I love it when people of “the past” try to stay relevant by making ridiculous comments like this. Ignore him – he was great once….a long time ago……

    • Exactly. JM’s trying to remain in the spotlight by diminishing a great female tennis player. Pathetic attempt to be relevant.



  • Kevin Philips

    Does anyone think, when pushed by Garcia-Navarro for an answer, that McEnroe should have said, “Yes, she is the best player in the world, man or woman.”?

    • That would be an ignorant statement to make. At her best Serena could not beat the best 10,000 men of all time when at their best. That doesn’t mean that women’s tennis isn’t entertaining…I like the longer points and matches. That doesn’t mean that women’s tennis doesn’t have skills…Many women actually have more skills than the men. What it does mean is that Men are more Physical…stronger, quicker, faster…just a fact. To say otherwise is just ignorant.

  • John Who? Who cares?

    His comment was unnecessary and it was sexist. He’s another angry, washed-up has been? If we’re playing today he wouldn’t rank well against the current field of male players. He is as childish now as he was in the 70’s….throughing temper tantrums and behaving like spoiled, entitled brat. Forget him…John Who? Who Cares?

    • John is easily the most knowledgeable and best commentator (and most entertaining) on the tennis circuit. If just stating the truth is being sexist then what Serena says makes her ignorant.

  • John Who? Who cares?

    His comment was unnecessary and it was sexist. He’s another angry, washed-up has been. If he was playing today he wouldn’t rank well against the current field of male players. He is as childish now, as he was in the 70’s….throwing temper tantrums and behaving like a spoiled, entitled brat. Forget him…John Who? Who Cares?

  • Come on now remember we are talking about john one the biggest brats to walk the court. Wasn’t even worth writing about this. He proved what an idiot he was a long time ago. Probably just mad because she’s better than him lol.
    God bless all

  • It is sad to see former athletes like John McEnroe who will probably never again play as he did in his prime to continuously make negative comments regardiing today’s pro athletes like Sarena Williams, just to get a little spot-light from their days gone by! Well, we see how low he went to get a little spot-light!

  • The guys feel threatened. Much like basketball; I prefer the women’s league.

    Billy Jean King went up against a big mouth knuckle head back in the day. She won and he went away and shut his mouth trap.

  • I recall Chris Evert saying something similar in an interview decades ago where she believed that the top woman’s player couldn’t beat the top 100 or 200th ranked man because of the power game. I can’t recall exactly when she said this or who were the top players at that time but I vividly remember her saying that. Let’s separate his candidness of fact from his lack of sensitivity in expressing his opinions.

    Maybe the Williams sisters have narrowed that physical gap but nonetheless there is still a gap between men and women physically that would be difficult to consistently overcome. And as much as women have advanced physically in the game, so have the men. (Just like NFL players of today are all across the board bigger, stronger, faster than those of yesteryear.)

    McEnroe could have expressed the fact and his opinion much better but that’s never been his game. I think some may be focused on the wrong thing regarding his comments.

    • Amen to that. Add technology to the changes made. Place a small wooden racket into any of todays top players and it would humble them awfully quick.

    • I believe Serena herself once ranked herself about 200th compared to the men. But, that’s still a far cry from 700th, which McEnroe only inserted as a gratuitous insult, intended to bring himself some controversy and publicity.

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