How Serena Williams’ Return to Tennis Led to a Rule Change

After observers criticized Serena Williams’ low seeding at the French Open after her return from maternity leave, the United States Tennis Association is setting a new standard for how players are ranked post-pregnancy.

When Serena Williams won the 2017 Australian Open, her Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ranking sat at No. 1. But after the birth of her daughter in September 2017 and a year off from competitive tennis, her ranking fell to No. 183 and Williams went unseeded at this year’s French Open—a tournament she’s won three times. (She withdrew because of injury before her fourth-round match.)

Now, after a lot of  criticism about how the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s post-pregnancy ranking affected her seeding in the tournament, the U.S. Open is changing its seeding protocol for players returning to the sport after giving birth.

Starting with this year’s tournament, which gets underway August 27, players whose rankings have slipped because of pregnancy-related breaks will not be penalized, The Washington Post reports.

“It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back,” said Katrina Adams, the president and chairwoman of the United States Tennis Association, in an interview with The New York Times. Adams made no promises as to where Williams would be seeded, but she said the U.S. Open would “revise the seedings if pregnancy is a factor in the current rankings of a player.”

Under current WTA regulations, rankings aren’t protected for players who take a break for pregnancies or injuries, though the organization said it would reconsider its position. But the U.S. Open will not wait and, under Grand Slam rules, has the authority to make such changes.

This new standard could have implications for tennis around the world, including at the sport’s other major tournaments: Wimbledon and the Australian and French Opens. Although the French Open did not seed Williams this year, Wimbledon, which begins July 2, has traditionally been the only Grand Slam tournament to consider factors beyond a player’s ranking, such as pregnancy, in its seeding process. On Wednesday, Wimbledon granted Williams (a seven-time champion of the tournament) a No. 25 seed, which is higher than her current world ranking.

“We think it’s a good message for our current female players and future players,” Adams said. “It’s OK to go out and be a woman and become a mother and then come back to your job, and I think that’s a bigger message.”

(Marianne Bevis/Flickr)

Jeff Hsin

By Jeff Hsin


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