Florida - Miami Open tournament director James Blake on
Monday urged tennis chiefs to rethink seeding rules after Serena Williams was
handed a tough draw at this week's event in Florida.
Blake believes Williams is effectively being penalised for
taking maternity leave by existing WTA tournament regulations.
The 23-time Grand Slam-winning American heads into this
week's Miami Open as an unseeded player after taking 13 months off to have her
Such a lengthy absence means she's currently ranked 491 and
although the 36-year-old can use a protected world standing to enter up to
eight tournaments during a 12-month period - thus avoiding qualifying - it does
not apply to seedings.
Her comeback in Indian Wells at the start of the month was
derailed in the third round when she came up against sister Venus - their
earliest meeting since the second round of the Australian Open in 1998.
And now in her "home" tournament in Miami, which
she has won eight times, Williams has been drawn against precocious Naomi
Osaka, the Japanese 20-year-old who arrives in South Florida having lifted the
Indian Wells title at the weekend for her first major honour.
Special seedings were sometimes applied to those players
returning from long lay-offs but that rule was scrapped by the Women's Tennis
Blake, the former US player and new tournament director of
the Miami Open believes the WTA have treated Williams harshly ahead of her
opener with Osaka on Wednesday.
"I think they are going to start talking about changing
the way some seedings are done and I hope they do," Blake said.
"For someone who goes on maternity break, they should
be protected. These kind of things shouldn't happen. She has won this title so
many times that she needs protection.
"It's not as if she left because of injury and lost her
passion for the game. 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.
"It's a kind of punishment which is tough. I hope they
revisit those talks although it will be too late for her unless she decides to
have another child," Blake added.
Taking on Osaka so early in the tournament will be difficult
for Williams who is understandably taking time to return to her very best.
However Blake added: "I may be complaining about it but
she never would. She is looking forward to every day as a new challenge and
that's what makes her such a good champion.
"But for me, from the outside looking in, it makes
sense to protect someone who goes on maternity leave and help her get the
benefit of an easier draw and a better path."
Williams, who is a minority owner of the Dolphins, was all
smiles as she helped unveil new plans for the Miami Open which will see the
Hard Rock stadium converted into a 14 000-seater tennis arena while another 29
courts will be built in the car parks and surrounding area.
"For now I will just be a player, who knows what will
happen in the future," said Williams of her role in the new-look
"I feel every week, every day I am getting better.
Having a part-ownership of the tournament is something that I will look forward
to. I am always trying to inspire people to dream their biggest."