Professional Tennis Rules Are Making It Hard for Serena Williams to Come Back to the Office Post-Baby

Even Serena Williams can’t avoid the mommy track.

The organizers of the French Open announced on Monday that they would not seed Serena Williams even though Williams was ranked No.1 when she left the tour on maternity leave in January 2017. While that rank has been protected during her maternity leave, which allowed her to enter the French Open, seeding is based on current rank, and this week Serena Williams is ranked No. 453.

The French Open will be her first major competition back after giving birth in September and experiencing life-threatening complications that kept her in bed for six weeks. In March she briefly rejoined the tour for two tournaments where she was unseeded in Indian Wells and Miami. Without a seed, Williams is likely to face an uphill battle as she plays against more experienced players earlier on, a dynamic that contributed to her middling performance at the March tournaments.

At present, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) treats pregnancy the same way as an injury or illness, though they’re considering a rule change that would treat maternity leave differently. Still, USA Today sports columnist Nancy Armour argues the French Open need not stay “stuck in the 1950s” just because the WTA is. That is to say, they could decide to seed Williams anyway.

Several of Williams’s fiercest competitors seem to agree that the 23-time Grand Slam champion should be seeded. Maria Sharapova, a noted rival, 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. …So, yeah, I definitely think that would be a nice change.”

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