NEW YORK • John McEnroe has admitted that he would have been better off never trying to compare Serena Williams to men's tennis players after the furore over his remark that she would rank "like 700 in the world".
Three days after his comments to National Public Radio were aired, the saga appeared to finally end as McEnroe, a retired tennis star turned television commentator, spoke on an ESPN conference call ahead of Wimbledon.
"Maybe it was wrong," the 58-year-old said on Wednesday, even though he had suggested having a combined men's and women's tournament just a day earlier.
"I'll agree, it would have been better not to have said it."
The stir came after McEnroe called the 23-time Grand Slam champion the "best female player ever". But, when he was asked why not the best player ever, he put her around 700 compared to men.
The next day, the pregnant Williams took to Twitter to respond, saying: "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."
On Wednesday, he stressed his respect for Williams, 35, and her accomplishments.
"She has been great for the game. I have a lot of respect for Serena. People that know me know that," he added.
McEnroe also said he never thought his views of where women would rank in the men's tour would create the controversy they did.
"That was just an opinion. That's just my opinion," he said. "This is not something that has been earth- shattering, that I feel there's a difference in the level of the women and the men.
"It would have been easier to leave it, Look, she's a great player and it's apples and oranges."
Retired women's star and fellow commentator Pam Shriver agreed, saying: "It's two different divisions. It's the women and the men, just like it's singles, doubles, mixed.
"You don't mix up the divisions. Great tennis matches are great tennis matches regardless."