Serena Williams' Maternity Leave Is Making a Major Change In Women's Tennis Tournaments
The heated debate surrounding seeded players who return after pregnancy has finally caused the U.S. Open to change their policies.
For the cover of its first "Badass Women" issue, InStyle chose to highlight one of the best female athletes out there: Serena Williams. Since giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, last year, Williams returned to the French Open to beat some of the highest-ranked players-and in a Wakanda-inspired catsuit no less. She ultimately dropped out of the competition due to a pectoral injury but is gearing up for Wimbledon next month. In her interview with the mag, Williams explained how she's managed to make such a quick and epic comeback as a brand-new mom.
Spoiler: It's not easy. When asked if she's still breastfeeding Alexis Olympia, Williams replied, "yes, and on top of that, I'm in the locker room pumping before a match because my boobs are so big. When I pump, they go down a size or two and I go out and play. It's crazy. So I feed her, and then she snuggles with me, which is the best part of my day." In order to make sure that her training doesn't take over, she established a rule for herself that ensures practice is wrapped up by 1 p.m. so she can go home and spend time with her daughter. (BTW, there's a hidden meaning behind Olympia's name.)
However, you've probably noticed that Williams' return to the court is bringing up a larger issue in women's tennis. When she took a maternity leave from competitions, she was unseeded for the French Open, which fueled a discussion about whether pregnant tennis players should be granted their former seed upon return. (A little refresher: Players are given seeds that dictate who they will go up against based on their expected ranking in the tournament. This is to keep the top players from facing each other right off the bat.) Williams was ranked number one before giving birth but returned as an unseeded player (ranked 451st in the world), which meant she had to go up against Czech Republic's Kristýna Plíšková, one of the highest-ranked players in the French Open. Williams beat Plíšková in that badass catsuit victory, but the controversy surrounding the fairness of the match remained. (Related: Serena Williams Believes That Her Postpartum Health Complications Made Her Stronger)
Ultimately, as a result of the uproar, the U.S. Open has finally changed how it will handle seeding when a player takes a break because of maternity leave. Katrina Adams, president and chairwoman of the U.S. Tennis Association, told the New York Times that the U.S. Open will revise the seedings if maternity leave is a factor. In the leadup to Wimbledon, Williams is hoping that the U.K.-based tournament will do the same. (Tomorrow, the All England Tennis Club will announce whether or not Williams will be seeded.)
"I think and I hope-and it should be under review-to change these rules. Maybe not in time for me, but for the next person," Williams recently told Good Morning America. "Maybe she's 25 and she wants to have a baby, but she doesn't want her career to be over. She wants to continue to play. So I think it's important to have those rules."
It took someone at Williams' level to bring the issue of maternity leave and seeding to the forefront-but things are changing for the better. Fingers crossed that Williams gets the ripple effect that she's hoping for.