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.
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.
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 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.
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.”