One of our era's most adroit tennis players has a fan in the White House. In a Thursday tweet commenting on the report that the French Open organizers will not seed tennis legend Serena Williams, Ivanka Trump criticized the decision, calling it "ridiculous" and demanding the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) change its rules around maternity leave.
"Serena Williams is a formidable athlete (best ever!) and loving new mother," Trump, a White House adviser, tweeted. "No person should ever be penalized professionally for having a child! The WTA should change this rule immediately."
According to AP, this year's French Open organizers will not seed Williams who is returning to tennis after completing maternity leave. The French Tennis Federation gave a statement to AP, "This year again, tournament officials will establish the list and ranking of the women’s seeds based on the WTA ranking. Consequently, [the seeds] will reflect this week’s world ranking."
Williams, who opened up about her difficult experience with pregnancy in a Vogue interview in January, occupied No. 1 in rankings prior to taking maternity leave. Now, the legendary tennis icon who won 23 Grand Slam championships is ranked a mere No. 453.
In the world of tennis, being unseeded from the get-go can prove to be particularly challenging for athletes as they may have to face higher-ranking players in the first rounds. Although Williams returned to tennis in early March and won her first match at Indian Wells Masters in California since she delivered her baby Olympia, being pitted against higher-ranking professionals could lead to her losing earlier in the competition.
It wasn't just Trump who disagreed with the French Open's decision. Sports analyst Nancy Armour wrote in the USA Today that Williams was "being punished for having a baby." Armour added, "That logic might be understandable had Williams spent the last 16 months on sabbatical, focusing on some other endeavor. But she didn’t."
"She had a baby, a physically grueling experience made even more so by complications that left her bedridden for six weeks," Armour said. Such a ruling was archaic and "mean-spirited" to all mothers, not just Williams, the sports analyst argued. To take seeding away from players returning after maternity leave is "discriminatory" to motherhood, according to Armour.
While sports commentators weighed in on the decision, Williams' peers, too, have shared their thoughts. Speaking at the Italian Open, tennis player Maria Sharapova said that she would like to see Williams play, The Washington Post reported. "It’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally," Sharapova said. "There’s just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions to the physicality of every single day."
"Tennis is such a selfish sport," she added, "but I think when there’s a child in your life you lose a little bit of that, because there’s something that’s so much more important."
As criticism mounts against the WTA for its ruling as well as the French Open implementing, the WTA has expressed to AP that the organization was overseeing "adjustments" to the issue of un-seeding tennis players returning from maternity leave.
We could see a change as soon as 2019, at least according to the statement WTA provided AP. The association stated that while "historically, WTA players have not been supportive of the use of special rankings for seeding purposes," the rule was "currently under further review as part of our 2019 rules process."
Tennis fans rooting for Williams might see more pragmatic ranking as the WTA stated, "We remain committed to evolving with the needs of our players and are very supportive of those players returning from maternity leave to the tour."