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Serena Williams will not get French Open seed after maternity leave

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PARIS (AP) — Serena Williams’ return to Grand Slam tennis from maternity leave just got even tougher.

French Open organizers announced on Monday they will not give Williams a seeding.

“This year again, tournament officials will establish the list and ranking of the women’s seeds based on the WTA ranking,” the French Tennis Federation said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Consequently, (the seeds) will reflect this week’s world ranking.”

Williams, a three-time French Open champion, is expected to play in her first major since giving birth to her daughter in September.

While Williams can enter Roland Garros under the WTA’s protected or “special” ranking rule, it’s up to Grand Slam organizers to give her a seed.

While she was No. 1 when she left the tour to give birth, Williams is currently ranked No. 453.

Without a seeding, the 23-time Grand Slam champion risks facing highly ranked players in the early rounds.

The WTA is considering a rule change to add protected seeding for highly ranked players returning from maternity leave but the earliest that could take effect is next year.

Several of Williams’ biggest rivals believe she deserves a seeding.

“I would like to see that (rule) change,” Maria Sharapova said at the Italian Open last week.

“It’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally. … There’s just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions to the physicality of every single day.

“Tennis is such a selfish sport but I think when there’s a child in your life you lose a little bit of that, because there’s something that’s so much more important,” added Sharapova, who has lost three Grand Slam finals to Williams. “So, yeah, I definitely think that would be a nice change.”

The French Open draw will be made on Thursday, with the tournament starting on Sunday.

“It’s normal to give birth. It’s normal to have protected ranking. … It’s more than tennis,” top-ranked Simona Halep said. “So the people will decide what seed she will get. But in my opinion it’s good to protect the ranking when someone is giving birth.”

Williams returned to the tour briefly in March after a 14-month absence. She was not seeded at tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, and compiled two wins and two losses.

Williams has recounted the difficulties she faced in childbirth, and a pulmonary embolism made it hard for her to breathe shortly after her daughter was born. But after a period of training, coach Patrick Mouratoglou last week told the WTA tour website, “Serena will play the French Open to win it.”

Current rules covering maternity leave and injuries allow a protected or “special” ranking to be utilized for entry into tournaments but not for seeding purposes regardless of the reason for a player’s absence.

However, this past year the WTA adjusted the rule so that absences for maternity leave are treated the same as those for injury and illness by providing all players a two-year window to begin using a special ranking, plus an additional year from the date of return to utilize the special ranking.

“Historically, WTA players have not been supportive of the use of special rankings for seeding purposes,” the WTA said in a statement to The AP. “The rule is currently under further review as part of our 2019 rules process. We remain committed to evolving with the needs of our players and are very supportive of those players returning from maternity leave to the tour.”

Fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina, who retained her Italian Open title on Sunday, was also supportive of seeding Williams.

“If you’re like finished or you stopped because you’re going to have a child and you will be in top eight, I think you should have this kind of thing, to have protected seeding,” Svitolina said. “She was No. 1 so she deserves seeding.”

William has won the French Open more than any current player, and last year’s champion, Jelena Ostapenko, is looking forward to her return.

“She’s someone who the tour was missing, because she’s a great champion,” Ostapenko said. “She was my idol since I was growing up.”

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Ester Ledecka must decide between ski, snowboard worlds

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — Skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka will not be able to follow up her dual sport gold-medal performances at the PyeongChang Olympics with a similar haul of world titles this season.

That’s because the schedule won’t allow it, and she’s not happy about it.

The parallel giant slalom at the world freestyle skiing and snowboard championships in Utah is Feb. 4 — the same day downhill training opens at Alpine skiing worlds in Are, Sweden, and a day before the super-G.

“I was a little bit hoping they would reschedule the snowboard race — put it a week earlier so I could do it both — but they didn’t want to so I have to choose,” Ledecka said Tuesday after placing 29th in a World Cup downhill.

In PyeongChang, Ledecka followed her super-G title by winning the parallel GS in snowboarding — becoming the first athlete to win two golds at one Winter Games using two different types of equipment.

The 23-year-old Czech is the reigning world champion in parallel GS.

Ledecka said she brought up the issue with the International Ski Federation, which governs both sports.

“On one side I see their point. For one athlete why should they do that, right? But from the other side I think I made snowboarding a little more popular, and I think a lot of fans would be happy to see me compete in both,” Ledecka said. “It’s their decision, and I have to respect it.”

Ledecka has not decided which worlds she’ll compete in. She’s currently going back and forth between the snowboard and ski circuits.

Last week, she finished first and second in two parallel GS events in Italy and then switched to downhill skis this week. She was fastest in a downhill training run Monday before finishing 29th in Tuesday’s race.

“I think I can decide right before,” Ledecka said. “But it will probably be early, so I’m well prepared.”

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Sandro Viletta, Olympic super combined champion, retires

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Sandro Viletta, the surprise 2014 Olympic super combined champion, retired from Alpine skiing at age 32 after major injuries, according to the Swiss Ski Federation.

Viletta, who did not defend his Olympic title in PyeongChang, has not raced on the World Cup since tearing a knee ligament in a December 2016 super-G crash. He hasn’t raced anywhere since another knee ligament tear in a lower-level race in March.

Viletta took gold in Sochi despite having one World Cup podium to his name (from more than two years earlier). Viletta was 14th in the downhill part of the Olympic combined, then had the second-fastest slalom to win by. 34 over Croatian Ivica Kostelic.

“I did not think this was possible; I did not expect to win, even after I had the lead today,” Viletta told reporters after the race. “But on one day, I had the perfect day.”

Viletta was the lowest-ranked racer in the downhill to come back to win the Olympic combined since the format changed from two slalom runs to one in 2010. He is Switzerland’s lone Olympic men’s Alpine champion from the last two Winter Games.

The combined’s place at the Olympics and world championships and on the World Cup is in peril as the International Ski Federation has incorporated more parallel slalom and giant slalom races in recent years.

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