John McEnroe says women’s tennis schedule is too demanding for players

John McEnroe said Thursday that there should be fewer tennis tournaments for female professional players because women seem to be unable to deal with both the physical and mental demands of the game.

“I don’t want to push women to play more than they’re capable of,” McEnroe said during a conference call promoting CBS’ coverage of the U.S. Open.

“Women have it better in tennis than any other sport, but you shouldn’t push them to play more than they’re capable of playing,” McEnroe said. “The game has become more physical than it’s ever been and then you deal with what is thrown out not only from the opponent but the expectations they have for themselves.”

Stacey Allaster, commissioner of the WTA Tour, chose to be diplomatic in her response to McEnroe, saying, “He’s an analyst and gives his opinion.”

And a CBS spokesman said, “John’s an analyst and an individual, and it was his opinion.”

McEnroe also noted that the game is more physical for the men, but he made it clear that he thought the women needed a break.

“You’re asking too much of the women,” McEnroe said. “They shouldn’t be playing as many events as men. If tennis is best served by women playing events with men, so be it.

“They should be required to be in less events, there should be less events for the women. It seems it takes an actual meltdown on the court or women quitting the game altogether before they realize there’s a need to change the schedule.”

Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva had a widely seen “meltdown” at the U.S. Open last year when she wept and tried to tear off knee bandages during a night match. She also wept openly on the court at Wimbledon in July when she lost in the women’s doubles final.

Prominent players such as 2009 U.S. Open winner Kim Clijsters and former No. 1 Justine Henin have taken notable breaks from the game over the last five years, and Henin is sitting out this Open as well because of an injury suffered at Wimbledon.

Michael Joyce, a former men’s professional player and coach of Maria Sharapova, pointed out that reigning U.S. Open men’s champion Juan Martin del Potro is sitting out the Open — and has sat out most of the season — because of a wrist injury and noted that Rafael Nadal was absent from Wimbledon in 2009 because of his own injury issues.

“The game is a lot different than when John was playing with wooden rackets 20 years ago,” Joyce said. “It’s not only the women.”

Allaster said the WTA Tour is mindful of scheduling issues and noted that Serena Williams will be absent from the Open not because of any kind of chronic injury but because of an accident with broken glass that resulted in a cut foot.

“John is more than entitled to his opinion,” Allaster said, “and he is a well-respected leader in our sport, but I hope when someone makes comments he’s also looking at the data. Venus [Williams] is 30 and she is very careful with her body because she wants to continue to play.

“Maria Sharapova has done a great job in dealing with injuries. We’re always looking at the schedule and requirements and looking out for what’s best for the players.”