Should Serena Williams be seeded at French Open after maternity leave?

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/olympics/rio-2016/a/1132744/" data-ylk="slk:Serena Williams">Serena Williams</a> was the No. 1 player in the world when she took her maternity leave but won’t be seeded at the French Open after a 14-month absence. (AP)
Serena Williams was the No. 1 player in the world when she took her maternity leave but won’t be seeded at the French Open after a 14-month absence. (AP)

Serena Williams is slated to compete at the French Open later this month in her first Grand Slam event since since taking maternity leave to give birth to her daughter in September.

She found out on Monday that she will not be seeded, which could make for a difficult path through the tournament. Williams took her leave as the No. 1 player in the world but has dropped to No. 453 following a 14-month absence from playing on tour.

No maternity exemption for Serena Williams at Roland Garros

French Open organizers told the Associated Press on Monday that they would not be giving the three-time Roland Garros champion a seeding exemption.

“This year again, tournament officials will establish the list and ranking of the women’s seeds based on the WTA ranking,” a statement from the French Tennis Federation reads. “Consequently, (the seeds) will reflect this week’s world ranking.”

A No. 453 ranking means no seed. No seed means Williams will likely face highly ranked players early in the tournament, which obviously isn’t ideal for Williams or whomever her opponent would be.

Serena Williams’ rivals think the rule is unfair

Several of Williams’ rivals were critical of the rule that doesn’t protect a ranking when a player takes maternity leave.

”It’s normal to give birth,” top-ranked Simona Halep said. “It’s normal to have protected ranking. … It’s more than tennis. So the people will decide what seed she will get. But in my opinion it’s good to protect the ranking when someone is giving birth.”

Russia’s Maria Sharapova makes a backhand return to Germany’s <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/olympics/rio-2016/a/1126199/" data-ylk="slk:Angelique Kerber">Angelique Kerber</a> during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Russia’s Maria Sharapova makes a backhand return to Germany’s Angelique Kerber during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Maria Sharapova, who has often been on the wrong side of a one-sided rivalry with Williams, supported a rule that would allow players on maternity leave to retain their rankings.

”I would like to see that change,” Sharapova said at last week’s Italian Open. “It’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally.

“Tennis is such a selfish sport, but I think when there’s a child in your life you lose a little bit of that, because there’s something that’s so much more important. So, yeah, I definitely think that would be a nice change.”

Williams has played in tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami since taking maternity leave. She was not seeded at either tournament. She lost in the third round to her sister Venus at Indian Wells and suffered a first-round loss to Naomi Osaka at the Miami Open.

The French Open draw will be announced on Thursday, and play will begin on Sunday.

WTA open to changing maternity rules

The WTA told AP that it would review the current rule that allows players returning from injury or maternity leave entry into tournaments, but does not protect rankings for seeding.

“Historically, WTA players have not been supportive of the use of special rankings for seeding purposes,” a WTA statement reads. “The rule is currently under further review as part of our 2019 rules process. We remain committed to evolving with the needs of our players and are very supportive of those players returning from maternity leave to the tour.”

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