Serena Williams' pregnancy might cost her at the French Open, and the policy is drawing criticism

Serena Williams during her Women’s Semi Final match at the French Open on June 4, 2015 in Paris, France.

  • Serena Williams will not be given a seed at the French Open because she is ranked 453rd in the world.
  • Several people in the tennis world argued that the policy unfairly punishes women who give birth, forcing them to sacrifice their ranking to have a child.
  • Many current and former players argued that top-ranked players’ ranking should be protected if they go on maternity leave, something the WTA is reportedly considering.

Serena Williams’ first major in over a year will have a difficult road.

The French Open organisers told The Associated Press that it would follow the WTA’s rankings to determine seedings for the tournament. That means Williams, who has fallen to 453rd while stepping away from the sport to take care of her first child, will go un-seeded at the tournament.

Williams, a three-time champion at the French Open, now has a tougher road to the final because there’s a higher chance she’ll have to play some of the game’s best players early in the tournament. Likewise, it’s a scary prospect for the top-ranked players who may have to face Williams early on.

The policy has drawn criticism from some in the tennis world. The WTA has a “special ranking” rule that allows players who have gone on maternity leave to preserve their entry into tournaments, but not their world ranking. However, some have argued that the current rule punishes women whose rankings drop because they decided to have a child.

USA Today’s Nancy Armour argued that the rule makes women choose between their careers and having children.

“She had a baby, a physically gruelling experience made even more so by complications that left her bedridden for six weeks.

“To not recognise that that should warrant an exception, be it for Williams or any new mother, is both outdated and mean-spirited. Not to mention short-sighted on the part of French Open officials, who risk seeing one of the world’s most popular athletes make an early exit from her first major since she had her daughter because she’ll face top competition right away.

“But the larger, inexcusable point is the discriminatory way in which motherhood is viewed by both tournament organisers and the WTA. The idea that players should have to choose between having a family and having a career is as antiquated as wooden rackets.”

Williams herself addressed it to The New York Times’ Christopher Clarey in late April, before the French Open’s decision, saying women should be able to juggle both personal life and tennis without sacrificing one or the other.

“I think it’s more of a protection for women to have a life,” Williams said. “You shouldn’t have to wait to have a baby until you retire. If you want to have a baby and take a few months off or a year off and then come back, you shouldn’t have to be penalised for that. Pregnancy is not an injury.”

Several top women’s players also came out in defence of Williams. Maria Sharapova told the AP that she would like to see the rule changed.

“I would like to see that [rule] change,” Sharapova said. “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.”

No. 1-ranked Simona Halep also said women who go on maternity leave should have their rankings protected.

“It’s normal to give birth,” Halep said (via the Washington Post’s Des Bieler). “It’s normal to have protected ranking. … It’s more than tennis. 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.”

Former professional tennis player James Blake, who is now the director of the Miami Open, told the Washington Post that it’s as if Williams is being punished.

“It’s not as if she left because of injury and lost her passion for the game,” Blake said. “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.”

Williams seemed to hint at her displeasure when she tweeted that she was still drug-tested, despite her low ranking.

According to the AP, the WTA is considering a rule to protect the rankings of highly ranked players when they go on maternity leave, but that it would not go into effect until next year.

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