Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the US Open’s decision to change its seeding protocol.
We’ll start with a hypothesis, but we promise that it’ll come around.
Let’s say you’re a working woman who’s well established in your career, working hard and slowly making your way up the corporate ladder, and you happen to one day be pregnant. Wonderful news. What happens then? Well if you’re a Canadian woman, you get up to a year off from work and take the time to raise your child, and then after the year away from work you can come back to work to reprise your role as working woman.
Cool, right? This is not especially unique to Canada and a good number of countries have such a policy in place.
But if you’re a WTA tennis professional? Then you’re out of luck.
By this we mean that you very well may choose to have and raise a child but once that’s done then you start over…. so to speak. Because tennis rankings are updated every week, if you happen to take time off to have a child then you’ll have to start over at whichever point you’re ranked in that week once you come back to tour.
It’s kinda odd, no? Tennis will not protect your ranking if you’re injured over a long time so that you can’t pick up where you left off before your ligaments tore off your knee, and that can be a whole different debate. But that it will do the same if you’re off for 14 months because you gave birth to your daughter, that you’re then you’re out of luck seems a bit retrograde, right?
It doesn’t matter if you’re Serena Williams and you’re the likely greatest champion your sport has ever seen, with 23 singles Grand Slam titles to your name. If you’re off for over a year because you’ve been pregnant, then you’ll see your ranking dwindle from No. 1 to No. 183 once you’re back, no exception.
No exception, only now there is one with a recent US Open decision. As you know, Grand Slam officials can seed players however they like for their tournaments and don’t have to abide by anyone’s rules, but they typically haven’t really used this capacity much: typically, they’ve really just relied on players’ rankings in their seeding process.
But this year’s edition in Flushing Meadows will be different. Katrina Adams, president and chairwoman of the United States Tennis Association, mentioned that their seedings could be revised if a player’s ranking (read: Serena Williams’s ranking) was affected by time off due to a pregnancy. Because, she said, “It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back.”
It is the right thing to do indeed because we should aspire to live in a society where women who choose pregnancy, giving birth and having a family, shouldn’t be penalized for it. We should aspire to live in a society that rewards women for wanting families and that empowers them and reinforces to them the idea that this is worthy and important.
Morality can be a slippery slope, but not always. “We think it’s a good message for our current female players and future players,” Adams said. “It’s O.K. to go out and be a woman and become a mother and then come back to your job, and I think that’s a bigger message.”
Now that the US Open powers that be have taken a first step, will others follow their lead? Wimbledon, the next Grand Slam on the schedule, has traditionally been happy to rely and bask in the traditions of the sport but it has also been happy to embrace different factors in determining seedings than simply a person’s ranking at any given time.
Sports are fine, but we should hope for it to stand for bigger and better things sometimes.
Your move, Wimbledon. No pressure.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG