Serena Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, is considered the best player in the history of tennis. So, the unnecessary obstacles Williams has to face in her career are seemingly serving as teachable moments for the tennis world.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced this week several rule changes for 2019, including: “Leggings and mid-thigh-length compression shorts may be worn with or without a skirt, shorts, or dress.” (Women have worn leggings on tour for a while now, typically, without incident.)
That means Williams’ “Wakanda” catsuit is welcome.
“I feel like a warrior in it, a warrior princess … from Wakanda, maybe,” she told reporters in May, referring to her catsuit and the film “Black Panther.”
“I’ve always wanted to be a superhero, and it’s kind of my way of being a superhero.”
Catsuit anyone For all the moms out there who had a tough recovery from pregnancy—here you go. If I can do it, so can you. Love you all!! pic.twitter.com/xXb3BKDGNF
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) May 29, 2018
Another WTA rule change, after surveying opinions from players this year, is adding protected seeding for highly ranked players returning from maternity leave.
Williams’ return to competitive tennis in March after having her daughter, Alexis Olympia, sparked a prolific debate around maternity leave.
Because she took time off, she lost all of the standing of her pre-baby career as No. 1 in the world. Williams was unseeded at tournaments, including the French Open. She could have entered the tournament under the WTA’s “special ranking rule,” but it was up to the event organizers to give her a seed.
A seeding allows tournaments to ensure the world’s best players do not meet in the early stages of competitions and instead play lower-ranked players in the opening rounds.
“You shouldn’t have to stop altogether just because you want to have a baby young,” Williams, who turned 37 in September, told the New York Times.
“You don’t want to be my age having your first baby, you know what I mean So, I think as a woman you should have that choice to get pregnant and have a baby and still be able to have a career, just like in any other job.”
Victoria Azarenka, another professional player who returned following childbirth, said there was a definite need in creating a balance between the returning player and those who had moved up into seeding positions.
“The conversation started because of Serena, you know, and all respect to her,” she said in March. “If we look at her achievements and where she’s come from, where I come from, it might be a fair choice that we do have a seeding in the tournaments after coming back.”
The WTA rule modification states that players coming back from either childbirth or injury, will now be able to use their previous ranking to enter 12 tournaments over a three-year period, instead of only eight.
It was Williams’ hope that returning mothers would be seeded in line with that ranking. But the WTA said it would only guarantee they will not face a seeded player in a tournament’s opening round.
Reader Question: Do you agree that the WTA should protect seeding for highly ranked players returning from maternity leave?