“It didn’t go over big with my daughters, either, okay?” he said when “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” crowd booed a recap of his controversial NPR interview.
There are plenty of McWomen to object, too. There’s Emily, his 26-year-old with ex-wife Tatum O’Neal, and daughters Anna, 21, and Ava, 18, and stepdaughter Ruby Myers with his wife, Patty Smyth. “You remember ‘The Honeymooners’ — Ralph Kramden — me and my big mouth! It’s a little bit like that,” McEnroe said. “Do they say that about girl basketball players, that they’re as good as Michael Jordan?”
“They might say ‘women’s basketball players,’ ” Colbert offered, to cheers.
And, no, he was offering no apology for the Serena comment, just as he had declined to do on “CBS This Morning.”
“People always ask me, ‘Can you beat Serena Williams?’ ” continued McEnroe, who in one of life’s happy coincidences just happens to have that new book (“But Seriously”) coming out. “My girls don’t think I can beat her now. I thought I could beat her. She’s pregnant, so maybe I should play her now. I’d have a better chance. But either way, I wish her the absolute best. She’s the best thing that’s happened to American tennis in the last 10, 15 years.”
McEnroe triggered this angle of his a tour to promote his new book with his comment, which came in an interview with NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro. She took issue with McEnroe’s qualifier in describing Williams as the best female player in the world.
“Well, because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world,” McEnroe said. ” … 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.”
Serena fired back on Twitter, asking for privacy during her pregnancy as Vanity Fair, with her nude photo on the cover, hit the stands.
“Dear John I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based,” she tweeted. “I’ve never played anyone ranked ‘there’ nor do I have time. Respect me and my privacy as I’m trying to have a baby. Good day sir.”
Let it be noted that McEnroe called Williams “arguably the greatest athlete of the last 100 years” when she won Wimbledon in 2015 and also that he didn’t qualify that based on gender. On “CBS This Morning,” he was pressed to say where, at 58, he would rank. “About 1,200 in the world.”
McEnroe wasn’t really saying anything Williams herself hasn’t said. “For me, men’s tennis and women’s tennis are completely, almost, two separate sports,” Williams said four years ago on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” “If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. No, it’s true. It’s a completely different sport. The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder, it’s just a different game. I love to play women’s tennis. I only want to play girls because I don’t want to be embarrassed.”
That should quiet things around the McEnroe household.