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Serena Williams Goes into French Open Unseeded after Maternity Leave

Tennis superstar Serena Williams is ready to return after experiencing complications while giving birth to her daughter last year. Yet, Williams’ triumphant comeback has been met with controversy as it was announced that she will be entering the French Open unseeded. A seed is essentially the tennis term for rank. An unseeded tennis player is one who has not been ranked among the top players.

The French Open, which commenced on May 21, was Williams’ first major event since she iconically won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant. When she went on maternity leave, the 23-time Grand Slam winner was ranked No. 1 in the world. Now, however, because she is not seeded for the tournament, Williams will have to play against some of the top players in the early rounds making her path to victory that much more difficult.

The French Open officials could have seeded Williams for the tournament had they chosen to do so, but they instead decided to seed players according to the current Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ranking. Williams’ absence resulted in her rank dropping from No.1 to No. 453.

The WTA currently has a rule in place known as the “Special Ranking Rule” which protects top players’ rankings in the case of a long-term injury or maternity leave. The rule states that players are allowed to utilize their special ranking privileges to enter up to eight tournaments within a year of their return.

Unfortunately for Williams, the rule cannot be applied to seedings. In response to the present situation, the WTA has announced that they will consider revising the rule for the 2019 season.

Williams’ longtime rival Maria Sharapova voiced her support for her opponent at the Italian Open,“It’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally… There’s just another dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions, to the physicality of every single day.”

She added, “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.”

Williams’ career should not be punished for her decision to start a family. Her job, which requires a significant amount of physical exertion, had to be put on hold to give her body a chance to heal after childbirth. This is the reality that women, not just professional athletes, must face if they desire to give birth to children.

The 36-year-old, who came out on top during the first three rounds of competition, was set to play Sharapova in the fourth round but was forced to drop out due to a pectoral muscle injury.

“You know, I gave up so much,” Williams told the New York Times, “from time with my daughter to time with my family. I put everything on the court, you know. All for this moment. So it’s really difficult to be in this situation, but I always, for now in my life, try to think positive and think of the bigger picture.”

What do you think about the WTA’s decision to not seed Serena Williams? Is this fair?

Featured Image by John Fornander on Unsplash

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