Serena Williams is the greatest women’s tennis player ever. But she would rank between Brazil’s Wilson Leite and Egypt’s Issam Haitham Taweel if she played the men’s circuit.
That’s basically what men’s tennis legend John McEnroe said during an interview Sunday.
Never heard of Leite and Haitham Taweel? McEnroe may not have either. Leite, 25, has played in 26 professional tournaments and is No. 699 in the world. Haitham Taweel, 27, has played in 31 professional tournaments and is No. 700.
And McEnroe told NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro of Williams: “If she played the men's circuit she'd be like 700 in the world."
McEnroe gave her plenty of credit as a women’s tennis player but said the two tours are completely different.
"That doesn't mean I don't think Serena is an incredible player,” McEnroe said. “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."
Williams responded later Monday via Twitter:
During a Tuesday appearance on “CBS This Morning,” McEnroe was given the opportunity to apologize for his comments. He declined.
McEnroe said he had been asked why he called Williams the best women’s tennis player of all time rather than simply the best tennis player of all time.
“And so then I felt the need, however unfortunately probably, to defend myself,” McEnroe said Tuesday. “I don't know, just say what I really felt, which is about what I think she would be."
McEnroe said he didn’t realize his statement “would create controversy" but added: "Why don't you combine, just solve the problem — I'm sure the men would be all for this — the men and women play together and then we don't have to guess.”
Four years ago, Williams spoke with David Letterman about the possibility of playing an exhibition match against Andy Murray.
"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."
June 27, 7:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with tweets from Serena Williams and additional comments from John McEnroe.
This article was originally published on June 26 at 7:35 a.m.