John McEnroe has reignited his spat with Serena Williams by claiming she courted publicity over a magazine cover featuring her pregnancy.

The presenter and former Wimbledon champion provoked controversy when he suggested the tennis star would rank 700th if she played against men.

Williams, who won the Australian Open earlier this year while two months pregnant, responded by asking McEnroe to "respect" her after he stated she would be "like 700" in the world tennis rankings if she played on the men's tour.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion wrote on Twitter: "Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based.

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"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 initially responded apologetically, saying he regretted the comments.

The Vanity Fair cover with image by Annie Leibovitz.
The Vanity Fair cover with image by Annie Leibovitz.

"It would have been better not to have said it. I didn't realise it would create something like this," he said ahead of the start of the Wimbledon championships.

But on the first day of the tournament on Monday he returned to the subject, suggesting Ms Williams had used her pregnancy for publicity, posing naked on the cover of Vanity Fair.

The pose echoed the infamous 1991 Vanity Fair cover of actress Demi Moore, who was then seven months pregnant. At the time, the image, taken by photographer Annie Leibovitz, divided opinion.

Three times Wimbledon champion John McEnroe. Photo / Getty
Three times Wimbledon champion John McEnroe. Photo / Getty

McEnroe told ESPN: "[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."

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."