Paris - The decision by French Open organisers not to grant
Serena Williams a seeding on her long-awaited Grand Slam return has prompted
renewed focus on the sport's policy towards female players and parenthood.
"French Open is punishing Serena Williams for having a
baby" read a USA Today headline, arguing an expectation for the 23-time
major winner should be made for Thursday's draw.
At 36, the American is looking to regain her top form
following the birth of her daughter last September. After sitting out of
competition for over a year, she no longer had a ranking upon her return to the
WTA circuit in March.
She has played just four matches this season across
appearances at Indian Wells and Miami. But her results, far from convincing,
have only been good enough to climb to 449th in the world rankings.
With a ranking so low, no player would typically even be
able to take part in qualifying for the main draw. That is unless benefiting
from a wildcard or using a protected ranking, which has at least allowed
Williams direct entrance into the field.
It is a system that lets a player retain, for a transitional
period, a former ranking upon return from a long absence - between six months
and two years - due to injury, illness or pregnancy.
But it does not guarantee them a seeding, leaving Serena
vulnerable to an encounter with leading title contenders as early as the first
At Miami, Williams ran into Indian Wells champion Naomi
Osaka in her opening match and was easily beaten.
"She has won this title so many times (eight) that she
needs protection," Miami tournament director James Blake said after the
WTA refused to alter its rules despite conceding that they would be
"further reviewed" going forward.
"It's not as if she left because of injury and lost her
passion for the game," Blake said. "She had a kid, which we should
all be celebrating, so when she comes back there should be a grace period where
she can still be seeded."
Maria Sharapova also spoke up in support of her long-time
rival last week.
"It's a tough call, I would like to see that
change," Sharapova said. "I think that would be nice."
At Wimbledon, which runs from July 2-15, the All England
Club could elect to seed Serena using its unique system that favours
grass-court specialists, given she is a seven-time champion.
But at Roland Garros, an event she has won three times,
organisers are not ready to take such a step with the French Tennis Federation
(FFT) reaffirming the seedings will reflect the latest WTA rankings.
Tournament organisers have been equally unmoved in the past
when faced with similar situations.
Victoria Azarenka was unseeded at last year's Wimbledon in
her first Grand Slam since giving birth in late 2016, while Kim Clijsters was
in a similar position at the 2009 US Open.
However, that didn't stop Clijsters, who needed a wildcard
just to compete in New York, from going on to lift the second of four career
Grand Slam titles.