So I’ve seen this Serena-return-but-got-screwed-because-unseeded story become a hot-button issue not just among the tennis press, but also in the mainstream media. Specifically, because Serena lost yesterday to Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka It has been decreed by many that it was somehow “unfair” that Serena had to play someone like Osaka so early in a tournament when “we know” Serena is the greatest!
As I understand it — and I believe this is true in the men’s game — when WTA players are out at least six months for either injury or on maternity leave, they can make use of a “special ranking” upon return for 8 events. That ranking gets them into tournaments they would otherwise likely not be able to because of their ranking drop.
Serena ranks No. 491 this week. Obviously, she would have had to use one of those 8 “special ranking” passes to enter Miami had the tournament not given her a wildcard. That’s not the issue, though.
The issue is why isn’t Serena seeded so she avoids such perilous opening matches like Osaka???
Well, first the WTA rule of special ranking is like that of the ATP’s where that ranking cannot be used for seeding purposes. It states clearly in the WTA Rulebook (pg 213.g), “A player may not be seeded using her Special Ranking.”
I guess the WTA could make an allowance — as they did years ago in seeding Monica Seles in her return from a knife attack — but if they give seedings based on special rankings for moms, then I think you have to do it for injuries as well.
If that’s the way they want to go, I’m OK with that. But let’s be honest, being top seed at a tournament is a reward and a reflection of how good you have been the last 52 weeks.
In Miami (and Indian Wells), should Serena, an 8-time champion there, have been the top seed when she had zero results for over a year? No! Just because she left the game as the best, doesn’t mean she’s still the best 13 months later when she returns, and so far she’s proven that she’s not getting blown out by Venus last week and now Osaka.
And in my opinion I’m not sure she ever wins another Grand Slam again — she’s 36, she’s a mom!! I commend her for all of her accomplishments and what she’s been through with injuries, etc, during her career, she’s the unrivaled GOAT, but I just don’t see a path back to the top at her age and in her condition. That said, if anyone can do it, it’s her.
I also get the argument that childbirth should be celebrated. it should, and I’m cool with that. If the WTA wants to give the moms a “better” special ranking or rank them differently or give them more events (more than 8) than the injured upon return, I’m Ok with that, too.
But again, when you return that doesn’t mean you should be seeded up at the top or at all. Seedings should be earned.
And if you did give Serena a No. 1 seed at Indian Wells and this week in Miami, after how many losses do you take it away that seed from her…??? How would that play out? And at what point then, does every tournament just do their own seeding, which I don’t have a big problem with either if they want to go that route.
Now, as for Osaka, even had Serena been the No. 1 seed in Miami SHE STILL COULD HAVE PLAYED OSAKA IN HER FIRST MATCH! Remember that.
Why? Because Osaka’s unseeded herself in Miami! The 20-year-old wondergirl is ranked No. 29 after her Indian Wells run, but the WTA released the seedings and the draw on Sunday before her new ranking was updated, and based then draw on her No. 44 ranking from the start of Indian Wells.
That’s pretty standard on the tour to do the draw before new rankings are out (even happens at Grand Slams), but in this case the WTA probably could have waited until Monday after the rankings were updated to make the draw. They didn’t, that’s on them or the system or the tournament (the men waited, but then they didn’t start play until Wednesday in Miami, the women began on Tuesday).
So to wrap up, the rules state that special rankings cannot be used for seeding, and my guess is that’s not going to change, be it for injuries or for childbirth because if you do it for one you almost have to do it for the other. My hunch is they’ll give the moms a few more events to use that special ranking when they comeback, maybe going from 8 to 11.
That said, of course Serena is worthy of a Top 32 seeding, maybe Top 5, and if the tournaments want to take that risk and seed themselves, I’m all for it. What fun that would be!
But guess what? As I said because the Miami draw came out before the rankings were updated from Indian Wells, Serena could still have play Osaka in her first match. It wouldn’t have mattered. So let’s not overthrow the system just because Serena got a tough draw. It happens, just ask Juan Martin Del Potro.
The great thing about tennis (and sports), is Serena has the chance to get back to No. 1, the traditional way. There will be more losses to come, but I’ll guess more wins and soon enough she’ll be among the seeded.
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