The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has eased its norms on ranking protection for new mothers returning to the circuit after a hiatus amidst other changes to its rules.
The WTA Board of Directors implemented these rules for the 2019 season after receiving feedback from the WTA Player’s Council and the Tournament Council. These rules are applicable to any player who is coming back to the tour from a medical illness, injury, pregnancy, or starting a family.
The need to amend the existing rules arose when Serena Williams returned to the tour in 2018 after giving birth to her daughter. She was unseeded for many tournaments over the season. Her journey through the year prompted the governing body to make some changes to the rulebook.
The Board, in its outcome of meetings held in the first week of December, stated the following:
- Any player who is out of the WTA Tour owing to a medical condition or pregnancy will have three years to use her special ranking. In the case of the latter, the time starts at the birth of the child.
- In case the special ranking of a player leads to a seeded position in the main draw, the new rules will make sure that she does not face a seeded player in the opening matches.
- The amendments also state that any player who is out of competition for 52 weeks or more may use her special ranking for a maximum of 12 tournaments in a one-year period.
- The new rules also have provisions for those ladies who may miss the tour owing to surrogacy, adoption, or guardianship issues. In this case, the players will have two years to use their special ranking.
Former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka was among the first players to welcome these new changes. She believes that these rules will help players feel more ‘confident and comfortable’ to take time off the tour to start a family or recover from an injury.
The rules also address the attire that a player may wear during the match. Once again, Serena Williams may have been the driving factor behind this, given that she caused a massive uproar at the Roland Garros by wearing a black bodysuit.
While WTA never had a rule that explicitly banned a player for wearing leggings without a skirt, the Board made its position on the same crystal clear. It agreed that it is up to the players if they want to wear leggings or compression shorts with or without a skirt, dress or shorts over them.
Other changes include the introduction of the 25-second shot clock between points at WTA Premier Events in 2019, in a bid to speed up play. For the same reason, players will be allowed only one toilet break/change of attire per match.