At the French Open in May, Serena Williams, who holds a record 23 Grand Slam titles, went unseeded.
Officials announced they would follow convention and give players seedings based on the WTA rankings at the time. Since Williams had taken a 13-month maternity leave to have her first child, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., her ranking plunged from No. 1 in the world to outside the top 400.
At Wimbledon, which begins July 2, things will be different for Williams, who is a seven-time champion at the tournament. She will be the No. 25 seed, officials announced this week.
She is now ranked 183, posting a 5-2 record since returning to the pro tour in March.
Last weekend, U.S. Open President and CEO Katrina Adams said that it would definitely seed Williams for the season’s final major, acknowledging that the formula for doing so had yet to be determined.
Typically, tournament seeding mirrors world rankings. But each of the sport’s four Grand Slam events — Wimbledon and the Australian, French and U.S. Opens — has the prerogative to depart from the rankings in awarding its 32 seeds to ensure a balanced, 128-player field.
With a seed, Williams is protected from facing an elite player in the early rounds. In turn, top players — such as defending champion Sabine Muguruza, French Open champion Simona Halep and reigning U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens — are protected against facing Williams in an early round.
After Williams went unseeded in the French Open, several current and former players (men and women alike) argued that to force a top player to start at the bottom after having a baby punishes them, in effect, for motherhood.
The question for tournament officials, however, is how to strike that balance between elevating a returning player whose ranking has dropped over rivals who have surged ahead of her in the rankings.
With Wimbledon officials indicating that they expected to seed Williams, the player most impacted by that decision — 32nd-ranked Dominika Cibulkova, who would be bumped from the seeding as a result — spoke out against it Tuesday night.
“Why should I not be seeded if I have the right to be?” Cibulkova told reporters, according to the London Telegraph. “It’s just not fair if there is a player [who misses out] and it’s me now. I have the right and I should be seeded and if they put her in front of me then I will just lose my spot that I am supposed to have. I don’t know if something like this ever happened before.”
It has. Wimbledon has precedence for tweaking the seeding of several players, Williams among them.
In 2011, tournament officials seeded Williams, its defending champion, No. 7 although her ranking at the time was 26th in the world. The slide resulted from a near year-long absence triggered by a freak injury, in which she stepped on broken glass and later developed blood clots in her lungs following her 2010 Wimbledon championship.