John McEnroe says Serena Williams would be 700th in men’s circuit

Also talks about the state of American tennis in general

In an interview promoting his new memoir, But Seriously, former tennis superstar John McEnroe made a somewhat controversial statement, claiming that current superstar Serena Williams would be “like number 700 in the world” if she played in the men’s circuit. McEnroe recognized that Williams is the greatest female tennis player of all time and that her mental game is strong, but “if she had to just play the circuit, the men’s circuit, that would be an entirely different story.” He seemed to backtrack on that later in the interview, saying, “I just haven’t seen it in any other sport, and I haven’t seen it in tennis. I suppose anything’s possible at some stage.” Williams turns 36 in September and has 23 singles Grand Slams, one short of the record set by Margaret Court. She also owns 14 Grand Slams in doubles play, as well as four total gold medals in the Olympics.

McEnroe is famous in sports circles for his fiery demeanor on the court during his 1970s and 1980s playing career. But in the memoir, he talks about his life off the court, including his struggles with finding a calling outside of tennis. For example, at one point he aspired to become a guitarist for the band of his wife, New Wave/rock singer Patty Smyth. Smyth apparently responded, “I want to play mixed doubles with you at Wimbledon.” When McEnroe replied that Smyth doesn’t play tennis, she curtly responded, “Exactly.”

During promotion of his memoir, he has also given his takes on the current state of American tennis. McEnroe believes that the cost of playing, including membership to clubs and complexes that have tennis courts, has gotten too high, keeping the scene from growing. He also believes that the game has become more athletic, but that American athletes tend to pursue football or basketball, which is why the country has fallen behind internationally.

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