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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Why Serena Williams, ranked 449 in the world, is likely to be seeded for Wimbledon 2018

In all likliness, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams will be handed a high seed – possibly the top – at the upcoming Wimbledon Championships, despite being ranked 449 in the world. Here is how and why it can happen:
What was the issue about?
Williams had gone on maternity leave after her Australian Open triumph in 2017 and returned to the tour in February this year. Since then, her world ranking has dropped from number 1 to the current 449. Despite the low rank, she can receive one of the 32 seeds available at the Wimbledon Championships in July.
Her pregnancy made her eligible for a ‘Special Ranking’ – locked on the world no 1 spot she had occupied when she left the tour – enabling her to enter high-calibre WTA tournaments that would otherwise not cater to lower-ranked players. Though the Special Ranking does not allow her the benefit of a seed at WTA events, for Grand Slams, which are organised by the ITF, seeds are granted at the discretion of the organising committee.
As a seven-time Wimbledon champion, Williams is a strong candidate to receive a seed when the organisers meet to decide the seedings on June 26.
How did it come to light?
During a press conference on Tuesday, Wimbledon chairman Philip Brook and CEO Richard Lewis initially claimed that Williams needed to be ranked in the top 32 to be eligible for a seeding. It was then that reporters from The Times pointed out that Grand Slam rules state that organisers of the majors could use their own discretion to hand seeds to players.
After the Wimbledon organisers made calls to the WTA, a spokesperson stated: “The seeding order follows the WTA ranking list except where, in the opinion of the committee, a change is necessary to produce a balanced draw. Therefore it is reasonable to state that the committee would have the discretion to seed a player for the championships, regardless of their WTA ranking. This discussion would take place at the seeding meeting on June 26.”
What do the rules state?
According to the WTA rulebook: “A player may not be seeded using her Special Ranking; however, a player may be seeded using her actual WTA Ranking even if she has been accepted into the Tournament using her Special Ranking.”
Based on this rule, Williams can use her world no. 1 Special Ranking to enter big events without having to go through qualifying rounds. But since her world rank is beyond 32, she cannot be seeded at a WTA event.
Similarly, the Grand Slam rulebook states: “The selection of seeds will be at the discretion of each individual Grand Slam Tournament Committee, however, the computer ranking list dated approximately seven (7) days prior to the tournament shall be a primary, but not sole, basis for such selection.” In other words, the organisers at Wimbledon have the right to grant Williams a seed.
What is the importance of a seed and how would it help her?
Seeds allow players to avoid facing higher-ranked opponents in earlier rounds. Usually these players get to play against wild card entrants, qualifiers, lucky losers or lower ranked and unseeded players. At the Indian Wells and Miami Masters, where Williams did not have the benefit of a seed, she faced and lost to elder sister Venus and Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka in the early rounds respectively.
Has there been a debate?
The most prominent topic has been that Special Rankings don’t provide seeds at WTA events, especially after Williams was not given a seed at Indian Wells and Miami. Miami tournament director and former world no 4 James Blake told, “It’s a kind of punishment which is tough. It makes sense to protect someone who goes on maternity break.” World no 1 Simona Halep took to social media to state: “To give birth is the best thing in the world. It’s more than sport.”
Williams too has spoken in favour of players not losing their seeding rights due to pregnancy. “I think it’s more of a protection for women to have a life. You shouldn’t have to wait to have a baby until you retire. If you want to have a baby and take a few months off or a year off and then come back, you shouldn’t have to be penalised for that. Pregnancy is not an injury,” she told The New York Times.
Granting seeds to returning players however, does come across as unfair to players who worked hard to reach the top 32 rankings. Victoria Azarenka, who had also left the tour on maternity break, asserts that the topic is being discussed in the players council of which she is a part. “On the other perspective that I have to look at is the other players who worked really hard (and won’t have) that seeding. It’s a difficult question, because if we do make that rule, it will have to be for everybody,” she said.
What are the rules for the men’s tour?
Unlike the ambiguous seeding policy on the women’s circuit, the men’s seeding in Grand Slams is based on the top 32 ranked players on the ATP tour. As a result, the current world no 39 Andy Murray, who has been on a lengthy break due to a hip surgery is unlikely to be granted a seed. Subsequently, there’s a possibility that the three-time Grand Slam champion (two titles at Wimbledon) could face Roger Federer in the opening round.
For the 2019 calendar year though, the ITF is considering switching back to a 16 seed concept rather than 32 seeds. The move could bring up high-profile clashes in the earlier rounds of Grand Slams. For example, current world no 1 Rafael Nadal could come up against world no 17 Tomas Berdych in the opening round.