Five years ago, tennis legend John McEnroe drew the ire of some in the sports world for saying that Serena Williams wouldn’t be able to compete on the men’s tour.
This week, though, McEnroe’s comments are making the rounds after he praised Williams, who announced last week her plans to retire, as one of the greatest athletes of all time.
“Serena’s the greatest female athlete, to me, in the history of sports. I don’t care who you could come up with,” McEnroe told Fox News. “She’s one of the greatest athletes period — male or female. She’s put herself along the likes of Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, whoever you wanna say. … She’s 40 years old. She’s done everything in tennis. She’s got nothing to prove.”
McEnroe’s praise of Williams may come as a surprise to those who remember him saying five years ago that she would be ranked as the No. 700 player in the world if she played on the men’s tour.
“If she had to just play the circuit — the men’s circuit — that would be an entirely different story,” McEnroe told NPR in 2017.
Williams will retire after competing in the U.S. Open from Aug. 29 through Sept. 11. The 40-year-old will end her illustrious career with 23 Grand Slam titles — the most in women’s tennis’ Open Era — unless she wins her final tournament, which would tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 titles. Williams’ last Grand Slam singles title came in 2017 at the Australian Open.
She said she is retiring because she wants to spend more time with her family and have more children.
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family,” Williams wrote in her retirement essay. “I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.”
“It sounds like she wants to have more kids, awesome. She’s got a lot of other interests,” McEnroe said. “People want to be a part of what she’s doing. She’ll be doing just fine. We were sort of expecting this to happen. She wanted to win a couple more, one or two more, break the all-time record, win a couple after having her daughter. That doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen but that, to me, doesn’t take away that she’s the greatest of all time.”
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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