Either you die a hero, or you live long enough to make short-sighted remarks about Serena Williams that no one wanted or even asked for.
John McEnroe is widely recognised as one of the biggest tennis stars of his era. However, in his current guise as an analyst and commentator, he is liable to make the sorts of comments that would land even the most talented player in hot water.
In an interview with NPR ahead of the launch of his new memoir, entitled But Seriously, the American was asked why he considered Williams the best female tennis player around, not just the best player full stop.
“If she played the men's circuit she'd be like 700 in the world,” McEnroe told interviewer Lulu Garcia-Navarro.
“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.”
The question of whether Williams is the best female player or the best player full stop isn’t an invitation to pit women against men in imaginary tournaments, or even an affront to the ability of male players.
The obsession with forcing women to prove themselves on the men’s tour is a strange one, often borne out of a desire to reaffirm male superiority even in a situation that will never be more than theoretical.
It’s a similar mindset to the one which has seen men argue that women should play five-set matches if they want equal prize-money, ignoring the fact that the move from best-of-five to best-of-three matches in the women’s game was made without the consent of players (and seemingly against their wishes).
Much like the inevitable scenario were he to returns to the tour today, McEnroe needs a qualifier.
Now we’re not saying that if John McEnroe was a kid today he’d spend the bulk of his time in Meninism forums, but he did get defensive when Garcia-Navarro questioned his ability to beat Williams now that he’s almost 60 years old, and he did respond with the words “I suppose anything’s possible at some stage” when weighing up the chances of Williams holding her own on the men’s tour, and he did – several years prior to this interview – willingly associate himself with the Adam Sandler film Jack & Jill. You might say the last of these points is irrelevant, but I think it tells its own story.
Anyway, it goes without saying that Serena Williams is not only one of the greatest tennis players, but greatest sportspeople of all time. So McEnroe can shut it, basically.
You can read the full transcript, or listen to the interview, here.
(Feature image: Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr; other image: Wikimedia Commons)