The U.S. Open is making a major change to how it seeds female players for upcoming tennis tournaments: namely, by no longer penalizing female players who return to the sport after pregnancy leave. It’s an institutional breakthrough and major win for women in tennis—and it comes after backlash surrounding Serena Williams’ huge drop in ranking after returning to the sport from maternity leave.
After the French Open was widely criticized for their handling of Williams’ return to the tournament last month following her pregnancy—the former No. 1 was ranked No. 453 after her maternity leave—the organization has now spoken out to announce a change in post-maternity protocol, one that will no longer penalize any female player returning to the sport after pregnancy.
The Women’s Tennis Association, which ranked Williams at No. 451 following her maternity leave, also received backlash and mounting criticism for its inability to make seeding allowances specifically for pregnancies—though it does have a protection that grants them “access to eight events, including two Grand Slams, and wildcard entries into tournaments they previously won,” reports Fast Company. The organization has since said it would reconsider its position—but in the meantime, the U.S. Open has taken measures to move the needle forward on this issue by creating a special protection on seedings for women who return to the sport post-pregnancy.
The U.S. Tennis Association oversees the U.S. Open, and in an interview with The New York Times on Friday, USTA president and chairwoman Katrina Adams explained the reasoning behind the Open’s decision for seeding protection: “It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back. We’ve shown that we have been a leader over the decades, from equal prize money onward to what we are doing today.”
“We are all about social justice and equality, and this is definitely an instance of equality,” she continued. “We think it’s a good message for our current female players and future players: It’s O.K. to go out and be a woman and become a mother and then come back to your job, and I think that’s a bigger message.”
Adams went on to say that forcing a player to come back from pregnancy at a lower position than when she left would be like asking a top executive to return from pregnancy leave at an entry-level position in her company.
“I’m a former player and I get it,” she continued. “I would not want to be the No. 32 player in the world who has worked hard in the last year to obtain this ranking. But we’re a Grand Slam, and we have the right and the opportunity to seed the players according to what we feel is justified.”
“Serena Williams is arguably the greatest player to ever play, with 23 Grand Slam titles,” Adams said. “She deserves the respect to be put in that position.”
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