On Sunday, tennis great John McEnroe spoke to NPR about, among other things, Serena Williams, and he now probably wishes he hadn’t. Asked whether Williams was the greatest tennis player—not just greatest women’s player—of all-time, McEnroe responded that, “if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.”

Many people were not happy with McEnroe’s comment, suggesting there was no reason to disparage an incredible player by speculating wildly where she’d rank if she played against men. Among those who were displeased with McEnroe was… Serena Williams herself.

In a pair of tweets sent Monday evening, Williams asked that McEnroe, “please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based.”

 

Serena makes a pretty fair point: She has never played against men, and she almost certainly never will play against men, so why compare her to men? It’s not as if McEnroe has any real basis for guessing where she’d be ranked.

Here’s the exchange between McEnroe and NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro:

Garcia-Navarro: We’re talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players. Let’s talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.

McEnroe: Best female player ever — no question.

Garcia-Navarro: Some wouldn’t qualify it, some would say she’s the best player in the world. Why qualify it?

McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she’s not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?

Garcia-Navarro: Yeah, the best tennis player in the world. You know, why say female player?

McEnroe: Well because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.

Garcia-Navarro: You think so?

McEnroe: Yeah. 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.

In fairness to McEnroe, Garcia-Navarro did explicitly ask him about Serena’s status as compared to men’s players. But McEnroe could easily have responded a little more gently, maybe by saying the men’s game and women’s game are totally separate and it’s unfair to compare. He certainly didn’t need to zing Serena, one of the greatest athletes of all-time, by pulling a number out of his ass.

Of course, Serena has dealt with worse insults than this, so it’s no surprise her tweets hit the perfect keep-my-name-out-of-your-mouth tone.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.