The Wimbledon seedings were announced this week, and the All England Club chose to list Serena Williams at 25.
The 36-year old American is the most successful female tennis player of all time, with 72 career titles to her name, including 23 Grand Slam singles, as well as the multiple doubles’ titles she has won with her sister Venus. So given her record and her six Wimbledon victories, some might argue that she is entitled to her seeding.
The problem is that Williams is currently ranked 183rd in the world, and is seeded only because her world ranking of number one was protected when she went on maternity leave to have her daughter last September, only returning to competition in April.
Many on the WTA Tour are not happy about this at all, and argue that players who return from maternity leave should not have protected seedings as well as rankings.
In May this year, two-time Grand Slam doubles champion Andrea Hlavackova told the BBC: “I heard that most of the girls are actually in favour of not giving [protection] for seeding, and I’m one of them.”
“I really don’t think when you are coming back after almost two years you should be seeded where you were, because your form is different. There are other girls in form, in shape, playing their best.”
“It’s a tough sport, and if I was in the shoes of the 32nd player in the world, fighting every week, and coming into Grand Slams and having that seeded position taken away by someone who just had a newborn and is coming back in questionable form, I wouldn’t agree with that.”
Hlavackova’s words proved prophetic this week, as it was the world number 32, Dominika Cibulkova who did, indeed, miss out on the Wimbledon seedings in favour of Williams.
On the eve of the seedings being announced Cibulkova made her own feelings on the subject very clear. She said:
“I think it’s just not fair. I have tried and I should be seeded. If they put her in front of me then I will lose my spot that I am supposed to have”.
Williams herself believes that players returning from pregnancy should have protected rankings as well as protected rankings. She is supported by current world number one Simona Halep, Maria Sharapova and Ivanka Trump.
However, they appear to be in the minority.
Petra Kvitova, whose career was nearly ended by a knife attack, is one that disagrees with Williams saying that, in her own case, “I know from my own perspective that when I came back, I didn’t really feel like a player who is top 20”.
And Mandy Minella, who returned to the tour in March just 99 days after giving birth to her own child, said back in March: “I don’t think we would be talking about this if it wasn’t Serena. There are many players who have been out because of pregnancy and there will be many more. It’s not that we are punished for being pregnant.”
At the end of the day, choosing to have a baby is a lifestyle and personal choice, as is choosing when to have one. No one is doubting the rights of Williams to have a child, or any other member of the WTA tour.
What, according to a lot of these tennis players, does seem unfair is to have a child and to return seeded above players who have not been away and who have earned their seedings on merit.
The general sense is that by all means welcome back female tennis players who have had children, and even protect their rankings, but seeding them is going too far.
And it is not just a question of principle.
Cibulkova, because she is not seeded, runs the risk of drawing a top ranked player at Wimbledon, which means she could lose in the first round. However, in previous years, when she has been seeded, she has twice reached the quarter-finals. A first round loser at Wimbledon this year will earn £39,000; a quarter finalist £281,000.
As Hlavackova said “I wish to have babies one day, but I chose not to have them during my tennis career”.
It’s not fair, baby!
What is your opinion on the issue? Should Williams have been allowed a seeding for this Wimbledon?