But Seriously

nolead begins By John McEnroe

Little, Brown. 288 pp. $29

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Reviewed by Kelyn Soong

nolead ends For the umpteenth time, John McEnroe has stirred up controversy the best way he knows how - with his mouth. During a promotional tour of his new memoir, But Seriously, the 58-year-old U.S. tennis legend said that 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams would be ranked "like 700 in the world" if she played on the men's tour.

That crack prompted criticism from media, tennis fans, and even McEnroe's daughters, and the resulting uproar has dominated his appearances on late-night talk shows and sports-talk radio. But McEnroe is standing by his comments even while reiterating his respect for Williams. It's vintage McEnroe, who prides himself on being candid and unapologetic.

The same spirit appears throughout his new book, a follow-up to his 2002 best-seller, You Cannot Be Serious. He opines on a variety of subjects, including tennis ("As far as I'm concerned, doubles is on life support"), art, music, religion, and politics ("I'm fiscally conservative but socially liberal").

From the start, McEnroe make two things clear: He takes tennis seriously, even keeping count of his head-to-head record on the senior tour; and his family, particularly his second wife, musician Patty Smyth, and his six children have been instrumental in softening his cantankerous personality.

Recently, McEnroe has begun to refer to himself as a feminist and take an interest in women's-rights issues, something he says he started to care more about because of his four grown daughters.

"Thanks to my daughters in large part, I now realize how important it is for young girls to have the same opportunities as boys to take part in physical activity," he says. "I am proud to be a feminist."

In the same chapter, McEnroe defends equal prize money for female tennis players, and he praises Serena and her older sister, Venus, for the challenges they've overcome as black female athletes. He also spends plenty of pages name-dropping his famous non-tennis friends (Lorne Michaels, Mick Jagger, and Paul McCartney are just a few), and failed forays into television hosting, Catholic upbringing, appreciation of former rival Bjorn Borg, and second life as an art collector and aspiring musician.

"Hopefully, over the past few years I've made some progress in grudgingly figuring out how to become a better person, and am now known for more than just hitting a tennis ball and getting upset and yelling at linesmen and umpires," McEnroe says early in the book. "But I'll leave that for you to judge."

This review originally appeared in the Washington Post.