Retired tennis great John McEnroe describes Serena Williams as the best female tennis player in the world in his new memoir, "But Seriously," but during a Sunday interview with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro, the seven-time major singles champion suggested Williams wouldn't stand a chance if she competed on the men's circuit. "Some wouldn't qualify it, some would say she's the best player in the world," Garcia-Navarro challenged McEnroe on the subject of Williams, whose 23 Grand Slam singles titles are the most in the Open era (since 1968).
"Why qualify it?"
"Oh!" McEnroe replied. "Uh, she's not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?"
"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.
". . . 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 US Open, etc. But if she had to just play the circuit - the men's circuit - that would be an entirely different story."
The 35-year-old Williams, who is six months pregnant, was asked about the possibility of playing an exhibition match against Andy Murray during an appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman" four years ago.
"For me, men's tennis and women's tennis are completely, almost, two separate sports," Williams said. "If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. No, it's true. It's a completely different sport. The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder, it's just a different game.
I love to play women's tennis. I only want to play girls, because I don't want to be embarrassed."
While McEnroe and Williams have never played, President Donald Trump approached McEnroe 17 years ago about playing a USD 1 million, winner-take-all match against Venus or Serena Williams at his Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City.
McEnroe, 58, told Jimmy Kimmel two years ago that he believed he could still beat Serena Williams. McEnroe sounded confident about his chances against Williams during his interview with Garcia-Navarro as well.
"I mean my kids don't think I can beat her anymore," McEnroe said. "Maybe I should get her now because she's pregnant."