WIMBLEDON – Yes, it’s 2017.
Given this week’s “Is the best woman ever better than a journeyman” debate, sparked by John McEnroe’s tour of the chat circuit in promotion of his new memoir, it was worth checking to make sure.
Asked to compare during an interview with NPR last weekend, McEnroe figured Serena Williams would rank “about No. 700” on the ATP Tour.
Issam Haitham Taweel, a 27-year-old Egyptian who is ranked No. 700, wouldn’t have made for very good copy. And that’s if anyone could find him; he hasn’t played in two months. But it turns out that a serendipitous bit of luck checked in at No. 701 in the rankings Monday.
Former top-20 player Dmitry Tursunov, who has been trying to come back from injury for what seems like years, is in that spot. And the San Francisco-area resident, who is just 15 months younger than Serena at 34, has never shied away from saying what he thinks.
Better than 701
Tursunov said he didn’t think McEnroe was trying to denigrate women’s tennis. But he felt he had to point out out the reality that “men are stronger in general”
Would he win? He hopes he would.
“It would be a similar argument to: who would run faster, the fastest woman or the fastest man? Tennis is becoming more and more a physical sport, so it’s going to be hard for a woman to beat the men, he told BBC World Service Sport. “There are lots of factors to take into account. Physically I might not be in the best shape of my life but as an overall package I’m much better than my ranking would suggest.”
“I’ve never heard John say anything absolutely stupid; he knows his stuff.,” Tursunov added. “What he said about her being an incredible player is correct – explosive, powerful and she puts in a lot of work. But I would hope that I would win.”
The woman herself responded to McEnroe via Twitter.
Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) June 26, 2017
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
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) June 26, 2017
At any rate, Williams already answered this point herself on David Letterman a while back. But if she says it, it’s perfectly fine. And, it should be pointed out, she wasn’t talking about No. 700.
During a conference call Tuesday to promote ESPN’s wall-to-wall coverage of Wimbledon, commentator Brad Gilbert pronounced those Tweets a straight-set rout.
“I thought Serena had a 6-1, 6-1 beatdown on her tweet to John. It was tremendous. I thought that said everything, and nothing else needs to be said. … It was perfect,” Gilbert said.
On CBS This Morning Tuesday, McEnroe snapped at host Charlie Rose when he said McEnroe knew the comment would create controversy.
“I don’t want to upset her or whatever it was. She’s — I think she was doing a tongue-in-cheek as well. And I think that deep down we’re talking about something — I can’t even believe we’re talking about it,” McEnroe said.
On the conference call, Gilbert added this:
” I don’t know what the context of why he said it, why he doubled-down on it. I will tell you (Serena) is the greatest female athlete in any sport ever, and maybe Steffi Graf is the second-best athlete,” Gilbert said. “Let’s say a 130-pound boxer might be the best ever. You don’t ask if he could beat, like, a heavyweight. He might be a better boxer than the heavyweight, but obviously he wouldn’t beat him. It’s totally ridiculous to ask or think about it. They don’t compete against each other.”
That’s a great analogy, actually.
On the same call, fellow American tennis Chris Evert also made a pretty good point.
“I feel like it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t mean anything. I also feel if – and I hate to say it – but if Serena Williams played the No. 200 male player, she might beat him. If she played the No. 500 man, she might lose to him,” Evert said. “It depends on their styles, how the games match up. So that’s my answer.”
Their two cents
Young American Tommy Paul, who has a long way to go before he has a playing resumé that will result in social media “allowing” him to have a say, had his say.
— Tommy Paul (@TommyPaul1) June 27, 2017
Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine, who is no stranger to this sort of opinion, picks Nick Kyrgios to drop a double bagel on Serena in a fictional match – or perhaps to be “gentlemanly enough” to cede a mercy game.
— Sergiy Stakhovsky (@Stako_tennis) June 26, 2017
The thing about all this is that the “argument”, if it even needs to be brought up, was settled long ago.
Braasch’s double battle of the sexes
German journeyman Karsten Braasch, ranked No. 203 at the time, and a notorious smoker and enjoyer of the good life, played a set each against Serena and Venus Williams,
It was 1998; the sisters were just teenagers. And they talked a lot more trash back then, with the insouciance of youth.
Braasch tells that story here, a few years later.
“Both sisters are great tennis players and hit the ball extremely well. However, if you’ve been playing on the men’s tour there are certain shots you can play that are going to put them in difficulty. Try and put a lot spin on the ball -– I was hitting the ball with a degree of spin they don’t face week-in, week-out,” Braasch wrote. “Another key is to chase down every shot. In our match, they were putting shots into the corners that on the women’s tour would be winners but I was able to return them.”
The bottom line is this: who is actually the better tennis player between Serena Williams and Braasch? And, whose career would you choose? It’s a no-brainer.
And in 2017, it’s really not worth debating again.
Unless you have a book to sell, of course.