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In her return to Wimbledon after giving birth to her first child in September 2017, Serena Williams is seeded at No. 25.
Williams, 36, has been outspoken about the Women’s Tennis Association’s lack of a maternity leave policy that ranked her at No. 453 in the world in her return to the sport, despite leaving at No. 1. Essentially, the policy treats pregnancy like it would a long-term injury, meaning that it provides the woman a “special ranking” that can be used to enter tournaments, but does not guarantee seeding.
In her return to majors play in May, Williams was not given a seed in the French Open.
Though Williams did win her first three matches in Paris before pulling out with injury, she was subject to face high-ranked players in the second and third rounds – she played No. 17 Ashleigh Barty and No. 11 Julia Görges. With those wins, she is now ranked #183 in the world.
Tournament organizers take past accolades into account
By securing a top-32 seed at Wimbledon, Williams avoids facing other seeded players in the first two rounds of play. If she advances to the third round, she could face a player seeded one No. 1 through 8. The draw will take place Friday with play beginning Monday.
Though Williams did not play in 2017, she won both the 2015 and 2016 Wimbledon tournaments, and has won it seven times in total.
Wimbledon organizers are allowed to stray from WTA rankings when seeding the tournament. For example, current world No. 2 Roger Federer was given the top seed in the tournament based on his success playing on grass, and current world No. 1 Rafael Nadal is seeded second.
On the women’s side, WTA No. 1 Simona Halep is also the top seed in the tournament.
Williams advocating policy change
Williams took to Good Morning America Wednesday to discuss the WTA rules:
She acknowledged that the rules might not change in time to benefit her, but that she would like to see changes made to show younger players that they do not have to choose between having a family and a career. Williams also recently told InStyle magazine that she would consider retiring if she had another child.
US Tennis Association will disregard world rankings
Her advocacy appears to be making an impact, however. If she enters the U.S. Open in August, the U.S. Tennis Association will not penalize her for taking time off.
“Pregnancy will not be penalized,” USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier told USA Today. “If Serena Williams enters the 2018 U.S. Open, the USTA will recognize her accomplishments, recognize her return to the workplace and will seed her, regardless of what her ranking is.”
USTA president and chairwoman Katrina Adams added that rules surrounding maternity leave should be treated like any other gender equality rule that affects workplaces, like equal pay.
“We’ve shown that we have been a leader over the decades, from equal prize money onward to what we are doing today,” Adams told the New York Times. “We are all about social justice and equality, and this is definitely an instance of equality.”
Other WTA players have voiced a range of reactions to Williams’ situation, from adamant support to strongly questioning why their own rankings should suffer to accommodate women who go on maternity leave.
Given that Williams’ exact situation is unprecedented, we’ll just have to see how each tournament decides to handles it while the WTA may or may not act on creating a blanket rule.
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