John McEnroe sets the “King Richard” record right on meeting Serena

John McEnroe only has one problem with elimination Serena Williams. He didn’t like the way he was portrayed in the award-winning 2021 film about her father, King Richard.

Otherwise, McEnroe – and Chris Evert – have had nothing but platitudes regarding Williams, who will play her last tournament at the US Open, which will start next week before retiring at the age of 40.

McEnroe called her “an icon of icons” with “the biggest serve ever, better than a lot of guys”. Evert said she “revolutionized tennis” because of her strength.

John McEnroe didn't like the way he was portrayed in the 2021 film "King Richard."
John McEnroe didn’t like the way he was portrayed in the 2021 film King Richard.
AP
Serena Williams hits a forehand during practice at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Serena Williams hits a forehand during practice at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
SplashNews.com

However, about this film that Williams was executive producing…

In the film, McEnroe was shown meeting Serena and her sister Venus when Serena was 8 years old.

McEnroe looked to set the record straight during a conference call as he made his first comments about Williams’ Open departure.

“It wasn’t fully portrayed in the film, [but it was] a great film,” said McEnroe. “When she was brought onto the court where I was training, my coach at the time, Paul Cohen, and Richard Williams, told me that she and Venus were going to be the two best players in the world. It was like, ‘Call me in 10 years, we’ll see what happens.’ ”

It wasn’t the nicest feeling, but the film exacerbated it.

“I didn’t walk away in disgust, refused to see Serena,” McEnroe said. “I was there. Saw them. Why would I walk away after being told that I will see two children, 8 and 9, who will be the future No. 1s? Why am I refusing to see these children? Because I a hothead? Not right.”

The prediction turned out to be correct, however, and McEnroe spoke enthusiastically of William’s career, which has seen her amass 23 Grand Slam titles. Barring a miracle in Flushing, she will come adrift from the all-time record set by Margaret Court.

“All there is to say about Serena is that she put herself in this pantheon of GOATS,” McEnroe said. “She’s up there with Billie Jean King. You mentioned Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady. There is Serena.”

Demi Singleton (left) as Serena Williams, Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams, Will Smith as Richard Williams in a still from the Oscar-nominated film "King Richard."
Demi Singleton (left) as Serena Williams, Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams, Will Smith as Richard Williams in a still from the Oscar-nominated film King Richard.
© Warner Bros./Courtesy of Everett C
Serena Williams speaks to her coaches during their training session at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Serena Williams speaks to her coaches during their training session at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
SplashNews.com

Despite Williams’ many blowups at the Open, Evert sees her as a spectacular role model.

“She was very inspirational off the pitch,” said Evert. “It’s obvious on the pitch. Her record, her power, her mental toughness. But the intangible – the fearlessness in her really struck me. That she didn’t set any limits either in tennis or in life.

“And she really spoke her mind. We didn’t always agree with her. But for the most part, I think the good definitely outweighed the bad. She has so many platforms from body shaming to working moms to women of color to women empowerment.”

Expectations are low for Williams, who sat out a year with injuries, returning to lose in the first round at Wimbledon, second round in Toronto and first round in Cincinnati.

“Could be on the first lap, or she might actually make a run,” McEnroe said. “Depends on the crowd. Sometimes when you’re not playing well, you feel like the crowd doesn’t understand that you’re struggling. It depends on how she reacts when things don’t go well or how she expects it to happen.”

Williams is unseeded and could face anyone in the first round. The draw will be announced on Thursday. The USTA is considering keeping Williams off the premiere ticket to build suspense.

“It obviously depends on who she’s playing,” McEnroe said. “Anything could happen. It’s so wide open. At the moment of course we know she can hit shots but it will come down to how well she can defend, recover and move. That’s the part that gets harder as she gets older becomes.”

Evert said Williams was “not playing that badly” but added: “I think it’s going to be difficult for them to get into week two because you just have more ups and downs if you’re not fighting strong.”

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