Serena Williams may be the best tennis player in the world, but, like many women, she still faced discrimination when she returned to work after having a baby. After not playing professionally for over a year, she dropped down in rankings to no.183 in the world. As a result, she was not granted a seed in the French Open, a move that has been widely condemned by the tennis community. However, the US Open has now announced that it is changing the way it seeds players to account for pregnancy.
Katrina Adams, president and chairperson of the US Tennis Association, told the New York Times that the U.S. Open would ‘revise the seedings if pregnancy is a factor in the current rankings of a player.’
Comparing Serena’s experience to a top executive returning from pregnancy at an entry-level position, she told the publication that players should not be ‘penalized’ for starting a family. ‘It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back, ‘she said, ‘we are all about social justice and equality, and this is definitely an instance of equality.’
Seedings allow the best players to face each other later in the tournament, intended so the hardest matches aren’t played early in a competition. Protected seedings allow players to return from injuries to their previous ranking, however, this does not apply to women who return after pregnancy. Serena Williams has long advocated for protected seedings after maternity leave, however, there is resistance within the tennis community as players who receive a seed outside of their ranking order will knock another player out of theirs.
Current Women’s Tennis Association rules do not grant protected seeding at tour events, however, the WTA received criticism for this when Serena was snubbed by the French Open and promised to reconsider their position. While we wait for that, the US Open has taken the issue into their own hands and with Wimbledon announcing their seeding on Wednesday, it’s expected they may make the same decision in accounting for pregnancy.
Traditionally, Wimbledon has been the only Grand Slam tournament to consider factors outside of a player’s ranking when deciding seeding. If they do choose to account for pregnancy, tennis will become a much more inclusive place for women.
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