Other top tennis players have supported Serena Williams by saying that the former No. 1 player, who was unseeded at the French Open and at two previous tournaments this year after her maternity leave, should have received greater consideration from tennis officials. Now Williams is also getting strong backing from Ivanka Trump, who said Thursday that “no person should ever be penalized professionally for having a child.”
Williams took 14 months off from the WTA Tour after winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant. She experienced an extremely difficult childbirth, which left her bedridden for six weeks, and has had a halting return to action, playing in two tournaments in March before pulling back to focus on a comeback at Roland Garros.
Williams plummeted to 453rd in the world by the time the French Open organizers announced their seedings, which they said they would follow the current rankings. Thus she faced the possibility of being matched against a top player in the early rounds — and, in turn, all of the contenders had the same unhappy prospect.
To Trump, the issue wasn’t that possibly pitting Williams against a highly ranked player as early as the first round was not fair to either, not to mention to tennis fans, it was the perception that Williams’s decision to give birth was being held against her. Trump labeled “ridiculous” the French Open’s decision not to award a seeding to Williams, who she described as “a formidable athlete (best ever!) and loving new mother.”
Trump, a senior adviser to President Trump, her father, has long positioned herself as an advocate for women’s issues, among them maternity leave. She has a line of apparel and accessories that says it’s “committed to helping women create the lives they want to lead,” although some critics have claimed that Trump hasn’t done enough to push the president toward policies that many women support.
Williams has received support from the likes of longtime rival Maria Sharapova, No. 1-ranked Simona Halep and No. 4 Elina Svitolina. “If you’re like finished or you stopped because you’re going to have a child and you will be in top eight, I think you should have this kind of thing, to have protected seeding,” Svitolina said recently. “She was No. 1, so she deserves seeding.”
“It’s normal to give birth. It’s normal to have protected ranking. … It’s more than tennis,” Halep said. “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.”
When the draw was announced Thursday, it appeared that Williams caught something of a break. The 23-time Grand Slam singles winner will face in the first round Kristyna Pliskova, who is ranked 70th in the world. However, in the second round she could face 17th-seeded Ashleigh Barty, and the fourth round could bring either sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova (Kristyna’s more accomplished sister) or the 28th-seeded Sharapova.
“It’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally,” Sharapova said last week of Williams giving birth. She added, “Tennis is such a selfish sport, 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.”
So danger lurks at the French for Williams, particularly since she was not her usual dominating self in March, going 2-2 while her coach acknowledged that she was “far from being at 100 percent.” At least, though, she won’t have an early date with Halep, a possibility warned of earlier in the week by Chris Evert, the 18-time Grand Slam singles winner who also said that Williams deserved better.
“It’s not like you decide to take a year off. I mean if you are forced out of the game for a specific reason, whether it be maternity or injury, you need to be protected,” Evert told Reuters. “You don’t have to put her back at number one because she left at number one, but try to figure out some sort of happy medium where it’s fair for all.”
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