Former World No 1 Serena Williams was handed the roughest of draws for Miami Open, and Tournament Director, James Blake is blaming the WTA, although spectators will relish the prospect of the encounter.
The 23-time Grand Slam-winning American was unseeded after taking 13 months off to have her first child and was drawn against the hottest ticket in town, the precocious Naomi Osaka, the Japanese 20-year-old who arrived in South Florida having lifted the Indian Wells title for her first major honour.
For someone who goes on maternity break, they should be protected. These kind of things shouldn’t happen. She has won this title so many times that she needs protection. “It’s not as if she left because of injury and lost her passion for the game. She had a kid which we should all be celebrating so when she comes back there should be a grace period where she can still be seeded. James Blake
Serena’s lengthy absence meant she was ranked 491 and although the 36-year-old could use a protected world standing to enter up to eight tournaments during a 12-month period to avoid qualifying, it did not apply to seedings.
Blake believes Williams is effectively being penalised for taking maternity leave by the WTA regulations.
Special seedings were sometimes applied to those players returning from long lay-offs but that rule was scrapped by the WTA.
Blake, the former US player and the new Tournament Director of the Miami Open believes the WTA have treated Williams harshly ahead of her opener with Osaka on Wednesday.
“I think they are going to start talking about changing the way some seedings are done and I hope they do,” Blake told AFP.
“For someone who goes on maternity break, they should be protected. These kind of things shouldn’t happen. She has won this title so many times that she needs protection.
“It’s not as if she left because of injury and lost her passion for the game. She had a kid which we should all be celebrating so when she comes back there should be a grace period where she can still be seeded.”
Williams faces a tough task in Miami, an event that she has won a record eight times.
She starts her campaign against rising star Osaka, and should she get through that match, World No 4 Elina Svitolina awaits in the second round.
Current World No 1 Simona Halep told reporters in Indian Wells that Williams ‘should have been the top seed’ in the draw.
“I think she should have been ranked as she left.” Said Halep.
“Not taking the ranking because she didn’t play tournaments, but just protected ranking for — I don’t know how many tournaments you have, like, eight. She could be the No 1 seed for that, for those tournaments. This is my opinion.”
There is yet to be any comment from the WTA regarding the current status of their maternity policy and if they do intend to review it.
Williams, who is a minority owner of the Dolphins, was all smiles as she helped unveil new plans for the Miami Open which will see the Hard Rock stadium converted into a 14,000-seater tennis arena while another 29 courts will be built in the car parks and surrounding area.
“For now I will just be a player, who knows what will happen in the future,” said Williams of her role in the new-look tournament.
“I feel every week, every day I am getting better. Having a part-ownership of the tournament is something that I will look forward to. I am always trying to inspire people to dream their biggest.”