London (AFP) – Wimbledon chiefs have admitted they will hold an internal debate to clarify if seven-time champion Serena Williams can be seeded at Wimbledon.
Williams is currently 449th in the WTA rankings after taking time off to get married and have her first child last year.
Following the difficult birth of daughter Alexis Olympia, which left the American star fearing she might die after developing blood clots, Serena has played only two singles tournaments.
The 36-year-old lost to her sister Venus in the last 32 at Indian Wells and was beaten by Naomi Osaka in the first round in Miami.
However, Miami Open tournament director James Blake said recently that the 23-time Grand Slam winner had been “punished” for wanting to start a family.
The WTA provides players returning from injury lay-offs or pregnancy with a ‘protected ranking’ that can be used to enter tournaments, but not for seeding at those tournaments.
Players can enter eight events using the ranking they had when they left, including for two Premier Mandatory events and two Grand Slams.
But players who hold the protected ranking for any reason, on both the men’s and women’s tours, can’t be seeded even if their protected ranking merits it.
World number one Simona Halep said Williams should have been the top seed in Indian Wells because after she contested her last tournament before stepping away from the game, she was on top of the rankings.
Despite her difficult return to action, Williams is registered on the entry list for the French Open in June, with Wimbledon scheduled to get underway one month later.
Serena, whose last Grand Slam appearance was her victorious 2017 Australian Open campaign, would have a good case to be seeded at both the French Open and especially Wimbledon, given her remarkable record on the All England Club lawns.
She had won the tournament in 2015 and 2016 before missing last year’s edition.
However, Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Grand Slam winner, wasn’t seeded when she returned to tennis in 2017 after giving birth in 2016.
Azarenka was ranked fifth in her last tournament prior to her time away from tennis due to her pregnancy.
And, asked on Tuesday, where they stood on the issue of giving Serena a seeding, Wimbledon officials conceded the question would be reviewed.
“It’s a good detailed question that we will for sure address at our meeting,” All England Club chairman Philip Brook told reporters at Wimbledon’s spring press conference.
“It is totally different from an injury. We have empathy and sympathy for the point being made.
“Our understanding is that if a player is outside the top 32 in terms of their ranking, then they will not be seeded.”
Wimbledon’s seeding guidelines appeared to give leeway to allow Serena to be among the 32 seeds, but Brook said that wasn’t necessarily the case.
“The reason there is reference to the top 32 in the men’s is there needs to be a reference point,” he added.
“We know for the top 32 we are adjusting for the surface based seeding. For the ladies we don’t have that issue.
“So maybe those words didn’t refer to the 32 because they didn’t need to. We need to double check that.”