The tournament’s decision comes after the French Open’s widely criticized move not to give tennis star Serena Williams a seed after her return from maternity leave
New moms are getting some love from the U.S. Open.
The tennis tournament’s seeding process will no longer penalize players whose rankings took a nosedive during their pregnancy-related absences, the New York Times first reported. The decision comes a month after the French Open drew widespread criticism for not giving one of its 32 seeds to 23-time Grand Slam champ Serena Williams, whose No. 1 standing dropped to No. 453 during a 13-month leave around her pregnancy.
The accommodation will reportedly go into effect with this year’s tournament, which begins Aug. 27.
“We have top players who exemplify womanhood, becoming mothers, and are not being allowed to return following their pregnancy with a record that reflects that — Victoria Azarenka last year, and Serena now doing the same thing,” U.S. Tennis Association president and CEO Katrina Adams told the Washington Post.
“With Serena, you’re looking at one of arguably the greatest players of all time. There’s a level of respect there,” she added. “But it’s not about Serena; it’s about the accomplishments of a Serena — a number one player, with 23 Grand Slams.” While officials haven’t yet landed on an exact formula, she said, “we definitely know we’ll seed her.”
Williams, who went on hiatus in January 2017 and survived a risky, complication-ridden childbirth in September, returned to the game this past March — nabbing her first post-baby win at the Indian Wells Masters in California on International Women’s Day. But her lack of seed last month in the French Open made her vulnerable to facing top players early on in the tournament. While she triumphed in her first three matches, she dropped out due to a pectoral injury.
French Open organizers at the time faced criticism for their call. USA Today sports columnist Nancy Armour, for instance, stated plainly that “Serena Williams is being punished for having a baby.” “That logic might be understandable had Williams spent the last 16 months on sabbatical, focusing on some other endeavor. But she didn’t. She had a baby, a physically grueling experience made even more so by complications that left her bedridden for six weeks,” Armour wrote. “To not recognize that that should warrant an exception, be it for Williams or any new mother, is both outdated and mean-spirited.”
Even adversary Maria Sharapova said she’d like to see the rules change.
“It’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally. … There’s just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions to the physicality of every single day,” Sharapova said. “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.”
“It’s normal to give birth. It’s normal to have protected ranking. … It’s more than tennis,” added No. 1-ranked Simona Halep, according to the AP. “So the people will decide what seed she will get. But in my opinion it’s good to protect the ranking when someone is giving birth.”
The WTA currently gives players coming off maternity leave or injuries a “special ranking,” which allows them to enter tournaments but doesn’t impact seeding. But the association signaled it would reassess its rules for 2019.
“Historically, WTA players have not been supportive of the use of special rankings for seeding purposes,” the WTA told the AP in a statement. “The rule is currently under further review as part of our 2019 rules process. We remain committed to evolving with the needs of our players and are very supportive of those players returning from maternity leave to the tour.”
This article was originally published May 22, 2018, and has been updated.
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