A Sports Moment
By Don Stenson
The latest DC Comic movie to hit the big screen is Wonder Woman. After one month in the worldwide box office, the movie broke the $700 million barrier. But this movie wasn’t easy to sell in some countries. Qatar, Lebanon, and Tunisia banned the movie because of its Israeli star Gal Gadot. She served two years of compulsory service in Israel’s military. It’s also interesting to note that there have been several Batman and Superman movies and even a Green Lantern one. However, it took years before a Wonder Woman movie was created. The same discrepancy is found in women’s sports, in particular tennis.
Exhibit A. John McEnroe was one of the greatest tennis players. He was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 1999. He is a career Grand Slam Champion with nine titles. He is a former number one ranked player in the world in singles and doubles. His 77 singles and 78 doubles titles remain the highest combined men’s total in the Open Era. He has a career winning percentage of 83%. It seems safe to say he would know a little something about the game of tennis. So when he was asked on the show NPR why he always qualifies Serena Williams as the “best female player ever,” you would expect a logical answer. You would expect him to answer something like ‘she is one of the greatest tennis players period and to compete against men she would probably be a top 50 or 100 player.’ There is a slight difference in the men’s and women’s game. The men play a best of five matches, while the women play a best of three. There are far more similarities though. The court is the same size. The tennis racket and the ball are the same. There are always mixed doubles matches, which pit a man and a woman on a team verse the same type opponent. There have even been a few exhibition matches between women and men in tennis. Tennis, like golf, is the one sport that has more similarities than differences in determining can men compete with women and vice versa. So it came as complete shock and utter disrespect for McEnroe to say that, “Well because if she was in, if she played the men's circuit she'd be like 700 in the world.” 700?! We are talking about THE Serena Williams. She has 23 singles titles, the most Grand Slam titles in the Open Era, 14 women’s doubles titles, and two mixed double titles. That is the most combined among active players. She is the only tennis player, male or female, to have won singles titles at least six times in three of the four Grand Slam tournaments. She is the only tennis player to have won 10 Grand Slam singles titles in two separate decades. She is the all-time record leader with 316 matches won at the Grand Slams for a man or a woman. So to say that is “Wonder Woman” is 700 at best against the men is absurd!
Williams responded back to McEnroe by saying, “Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based. 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.” McEnroe was asked by CBS This Morning if he would like to apologize and he did not. He said, “She's the greatest female player that ever lived, then the lady said to me, I don't remember which one, but she said, ‘Why did you say woman, why don't you just say the greatest, you know, tennis player that ever lived?’ And so then I felt the need, however unfortunately probably, to defend myself. I don't know, just say what I really felt, which is about what I think she would be.”
The Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament has started and again McEnroe was given another opportunity to appease things with his previous comments. McEnroe initially responded apologetically, saying he regretted the comments. "It would have been better not to have said it. I didn't realize it would create something like this.” However, he suggested that Williams had used her pregnancy for publicity, posing naked on the cover of Vanity Fair. "[Serena] also said to me, 'Respect my privacy'—and then I saw her doing a Demi Moore lookalike thing on the cover of Vanity Fair." At this point you have to put your hand in your face and shake your head. McEnroe just doesn’t get it. Maybe he does, and he is using this to promote his newly released book called ‘But Seriously”.
Lulu Garcia-Navarro, who interviewed McEnroe for NPR tweeted, "Is being the best athlete in the world about pitting men against women? By that metric women can never be best. Shouldn't you look at exceptional performance and wins? It's not a battle of the sexes." Asked by McEnroe where Williams would be ranked if she were on the men’s circuit, former women's number one Chris Evert said: “It’s not relevant. It’s apples and oranges.” They are two separate entities but at what point will women’s sports be given the credit it deserves without the disparaging remarks and criticism? Who will be the Princess Diana to change that thinking?