In publicizing his second memoir, tennis legend John McEnroe is making a stir with comments about Serena Williams.
In an interview with NPR, McEnroe engaged with host Lulu Garcia-Navarro about Serena’s status as the best tennis player in the world. When Garcia-Navarro asked why McEnroe would qualify Serena’s status in women’s tennis versus tennis overall, he reasoned that it was because of where Williams would stand on the men’s circuit.
Where does McEnroe think Williams, who by many accounts is the greatest and most dominant female tennis player of all-time with 23 major titles, would fall on the men’s side? He says she would be ranked 700th in the world.
Here’s the NPR transcript:
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.
Maybe Serena wouldn’t be Top 10 in the world on the men’s side or even Top 100… but 700th? That seems a bit harsh does it not given how exceptional Serena Williams truly is and how remarkable her career has been, doesn’t it?
Well, it’s not like we have a ton of evidence to discern the accuracy of McEnroe’s take. And it would probably be the height of millennial blogging arrogance to suggest that any random dude with a keyboard knows more about tennis than John McEnroe. However, there is one past event we can point to though at the 1998 Australian Open that can give us an ounce of clarity.
When the Williams Sisters were in the early stages of their career, they challenged any male tennis player outside the Top 200 in the rankings to an exhibition match. At the 1998 Australian Open Karsten Braasch, ranked 203rd in the world, took them up on the offer. He defeated Serena in a set 6-1 and Venus by a score of 6-2 on one of the backcourts in Melbourne. The matches weren’t for television and weren’t for any kind of publicity, but reports of the games did earn some press coverage afterwards.
Serena Williams is obviously a much different and much better player than she was in 1998 and it’s truly just speculation where exactly she would fall in the men’s rankings. We may never find out, but maybe we could one day see her take the court against McEnroe himself as the next best thing.