Tennis legend Jimmy Connors wants everyone to BACK OFF former Indian Wells CEO Ray Moore -- saying his sexist rant was just a "loose statement" and people need to "let it go."
Moore resigned last week after ranting that male stars carry the sport -- saying, "If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born."
"Ray's my friend," Connors told us outside of Madeo ... "He's been my friend for 50 years."
"The guy makes a mistake. He says one loose thing ... but look at everything he's done on the positive side for tennis, women's tennis, men's tennis in general."
"Some guys make a loose statement," he added ... "Let it go, look at the positive things he's done and move on."
We also asked Connors how he felt about Maria Sharapova's suspension after testing positive for a banned substance -- he called it "interesting" and said, "You gotta do what it takes to be good."