John McEnroe praised Serena Williams at length shortly before his controversial comments over where she’d rank among men players

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Ethan Miller/Getty

In June, tennis legend John McEnroe sparked a controversy when he said Serena Williams would rank in the 700s if she played on the men’s circuit.

During an interview on NPR, McEnroe was asked why he would qualify that Williams is the greatest women’s player and not the best player of all time, and he said she couldn’t physically keep up with men’s players.

Williams eventually shot back on Twitter and McEnroe refused to apologize, though, as he has done in the past, continued to praise her career.

However, shortly before the interview on NPR, McEnroe was on Bill Simmons’ podcast and discussed Williams’ decorated career. The podcast interview was taped before the NPR interview, but was only released on Friday.

Simmons asked if McEnroe considers Williams the best player ever when measuring her vs. whoever ranks second in women’s tennis. McEnroe said, “I think so.”

McEnroe went on to praise Williams’ “will,” saying her determination is what sets her apart from so many other players.

“She’s just an amazing athlete. But even more so … her will. She’s come back from more matches where she’s match-point down than any player I’ve ever seen and won the tournament or won that match and that’s not easy to do. I didn’t do that that much.

“And she’s had it a lot tougher, ten times or 50 times, or however many times more difficult than someone like myself, being a black girl in a white man’s game, basically. So, the fact that she’s overcome that and been able to be successful says a lot about her. I mean, one is that she’s so much better than everyone. Also that she’s been able to persevere. Her sister [Yetunde Price] was killed about 10, 15 years ago, so … she’s had a lot of stuff.”

McEnroe has praised Williams in the past as well. After Williams won Wimbledon in 2015, McEnroe said she’s “arguably the greatest athlete of the last 100 years.”

McEnroe may not have walked back his comments about where Williams would rank among men, but he hasn’t been shy about praising her either.