Ser­ena Wil­liams at No. 25 in post-preg­nancy Wim­ble­don re­turn

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - HOWARD FENDRICH By

Ser­ena Wil­liams was seeded No. 25 for her re­turn to Wim­ble­don af­ter hav­ing a baby, a de­ci­sion by the All Eng­land Club an­nounced Wed­nes­day that el­e­vates the tour­na­ment’s seven-time cham­pion above her rank­ing of 183rd.

While WTA rules al­low women who miss time be­cause of a preg­nancy to en­ter events based on their pre-ab­sence rank­ing, there is no guar­an­tee of a seed­ing, a pol­icy which has been the sub­ject of much de­bate in re­cent months be­cause of Wil­liams’ sta­tus. The 36year-old Amer­i­can gave birth to a daugh­ter last Septem­ber and was off the tour for more than a year.

By mov­ing Wil­liams into the top 32, the All Eng­land Club af­forded her “pro­tec­tion” from fac­ing any other seeded player in ei­ther of the first two rounds — and, of course, al­lowed the other seeds to avoid fac­ing her that early, too. Wil­liams is a former No. 1 whose 23 ma­jor sin­gles cham­pi­onships are a record for the pro­fes­sional era, which be­gan in 1968. She missed Wim­ble­don in 2017, but won the ti­tle the last two times she was in the field, in 2015 and 2016.

Putting Wil­liams at No. 25 now means that she could face some­one seeded No. 1 through No. 8 in the third round. The draw for Wim­ble­don is Fri­day; play be­gins Mon­day.

Wim­ble­don and other Grand Slam tour­na­ments have lee­way to stray from strictly fol­low­ing the WTA and ATP rank­ings when de­ter­min­ing seed­ings. That’s why, for ex­am­ple, eight-time Wim­ble­don cham­pion Roger Fed­erer’s suc­cess on grass courts was taken into ac­count when the All Eng­land Club bumped him up a spot to No. 1 on Wed­nes­day, while top-ranked Rafael Nadal is seeded No. 2. When Wil­liams en­tered the French Open in May, her first Grand Slam ac­tion in 16 months, she was not seeded by the French ten­nis fed­er­a­tion. She wound up beat­ing the women ranked No. 11 and No. 17 en route to reach­ing the fourth round. But be­cause of an in­jured pec­toral mus­cle, Wil­liams pulled out of Roland Gar­ros be­fore what would have been a showdown against five-time ma­jor cham­pion Maria Shara­pova.

The U.S. Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion says it does in­tend to seed Wil­liams for the U.S. Open, which be­gins in Au­gust. That is part of a new plan, first re­ported by The New York Times, to take into ac­count if a preg­nancy af­fected a player’s rank­ing.

“Preg­nancy will not be pe­nal­ized,” USTA spokesman Chris Wid­maier said. “If Ser­ena Wil­liams en­ters the 2018 U.S. Open, the USTA will rec­og­nize her ac­com­plish­ments, rec­og­nize her re­turn to the work­place and will seed her, re­gard­less of what her rank­ing is.”

One ef­fect of Wil­liams’ be­ing seeded at the All Eng­land Club: The 32ndranked Do­minika Cibulkova, a two-time Wim­ble­don quar­ter­fi­nal­ist and the 2014 Aus­tralian Open run­ner-up, will not ben­e­fit from a seed­ing and could play any­one in the field in the first round.

“I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” Cibulkova told British broad­caster BBC ahead of Wed­nes­day’s seed­ing an­nounce­ment.“I think it’s just not fair.”

No un­seeded woman has won the Wim­ble­don sin­gles cham­pi­onship. Only two un­seeded men have raised the tro­phy at the All Eng­land Club: Boris Becker in 1985, and Go­ran Ivani­se­vic in 2001.

Aside from the All Eng­land Club’s plac­ing of Wil­liams, the women’s seed­ings align with the rank­ings. So French Open cham­pion Si­mona Halep is No. 1, Aus­tralian Open Caro­line Woz­ni­acki is No. 2, reign­ing Wim­ble­don cham­pion Gar­bine Mugu­ruza is No. 3, and U.S. Open cham­pion Sloane Stephens is No. 4.

Shara­pova is seeded 24th.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF TRT WORLD

Ser­ena Wil­liams cel­e­brates win­ning against Ger­many's Ju­lia Go­erges in Paris, France.

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