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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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MORE: Williams almost cried before winning comeback match

Serena Williams almost cried before winning comeback match

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Walking on court for the first match of her latest comeback, Serena Williams allowed herself a rare smile. This time, tennis is different for the 23-time major winner.

What didn’t change is Williams winning.

She beat Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday night after a 14-month layoff for the birth of her first daughter.

“I almost cried before the match,” Williams said. “I texted Alexis, I was like, is it normal that I want to cry? I really missed her, but playing at night really helped because I know she goes to bed and she goes to sleep. I can’t like play with her right now.”

With new husband and Reddit co-found Alexis Ohanian looking on, Williams played from behind until breaking Diyas in the 11th game of the first set. Diyas netted a forehand and Williams yelled, “Come on!” as the crowd cheered.

“Right now, for this particular tournament, I’m really just trying to take it easy and not put so much pressure or stress or expectation on myself,” she said. “I feel like it’s one of the few times I’ve been able to do that.”

Williams has been away since winning the 2017 Australian Open early in her pregnancy. She gave birth to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. six months ago.

Williams is playing at Indian Wells under a protected ranking of 22nd. She hasn’t been unseeded at a tournament since 2011 in Cincinnati.

“I’m playing with nothing to lose, I only can gain,” she said. “For me, it’s a real joy to be out here.”

The half-full stadium warmly greeted Williams, with many fans giving her a standing ovation as she entered.

Williams served a love game capped by a 100-mph ace in her first service game. She had break points in the first and fifth games but couldn’t convert. She started hitting harder and her familiar grunting returned when she tied the set 5-all.

Diyas and Williams traded service breaks early in the second set. Williams then broke her opponent again en route to winning the final five games in front of the half-full stadium. She smiled as she walked to the net, and her family gave her a standing ovation.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Williams said on court. “We always have a couple tight sets. It was good. I’m a little rusty, but it doesn’t matter. I’m just out here on this journey and doing the best I can.”

Also in Williams’ box were her mother Oracene, sisters Lyndrea and Isha, her agent, and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Older sister Venus watched from a balcony seat in an upper-level box on a 68-degree night in the Southern California desert.

Ohanian bought four billboards along Interstate 10 outside Palm Springs in tribute to his wife. The fourth billboard shows a photo of Williams and their daughter with the phrase “G.M.O.A.T” — greatest mother of all time — and is signed by Alexis Sr. and Jr.

Now she’s traveling the tour with her baby and sometimes her husband, when he isn’t off working.

“I’ve never done this before,” she said. “I know I’ll make mistakes and I’m OK with that.”

Williams’ only competitive appearances since the birth came in December at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, a Fed Cup doubles match with sister Venus last month and an exhibition in New York on Monday.

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MORE: Williams comments on 2020 Olympics during pregnancy

Serena Williams set for first WTA match in 14 months

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Serena Williams makes her return to the pro tour after a 14-month absence with a first-round match at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday.

She will play Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan in a night match at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Williams has played just one Fed Cup doubles match while away from the WTA Tour. The former world No. 1 is unseeded and as a result did not receive a first-round bye.

The new mother, who gave birth in September, will try to become the first woman to win three singles titles in the desert. Her other titles came in 1999 and 2001 before she boycotted the event for several years.

Williams, a winner of 23 Grand Slam titles, is in the same quarter of the draw as older sister Venus Williams. The siblings could potentially face each other in the third round.

Also set to play Thursday night is another new mom, Victoria Azarenka, a two-time tourney winner who got into the main draw with a wild card.

Two-time winner Maria Sharapova returns to the desert for the first time in three years. She plays Naomi Osaka of Japan on Wednesday.

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