(Reuters) - French Open organizers are wrong to stick rigidly to the WTA ranking list and not seed three-times champion Serena Williams for this year’s tournament, fellow American Chris Evert said.
The 36-year-old Williams, winner of 23 grand slam titles, is ranked a lowly 453rd after returning to action this year following the birth of her daughter last September.
With the French Tennis Federation (FFT) confirming that the 32 women’s seeds to be announced on Thursday will “reflect this week’s world ranking”, it means Williams could face defending champion Jelena Ostapenko or world number one Simona Halep in the opening round. This will be Williams’ first grand slam event since she won the 2017 Australian Open when already pregnant.
Williams could still be seeded at Wimbledon in July because the All England Club’s ‘tennis sub-committee’ can tweak the seedings in special circumstances.
Evert, who won the French Open seven times, believes the same should apply at Roland Garros and the protected ranking rule, which allows athletes returning from long absences to gain entry into tournaments using the ranking they had when they stopped playing, should extend to seedings.
“It’s wrong, they should protect players,” Evert, who will be working for broadcaster ESPN during the Paris fortnight, told Reuters by telephone.
“Not just for her but for the other women who could play her in the first round. She could play Halep in the first round. It’s about protecting the field too.
“It’s not like you decide to take a year off. I mean if you are forced out of the game for a specific reason, whether it be maternity or injury, you need to be protected.
“You don’t have to put her back at number one because she left at number one but try to figure out some sort of happy medium where it’s fair for all.”
Williams has not played a tournament since Miami in March and pulled out of the claycourt events in Madrid and Rome, although she has been preparing for Roland Garros in France.
The decision not to seed Williams has attracted criticism from players past and present but at least at Wimbledon the same dilemma is unlikely to arise if Williams, seven-times champion on the grass, plays this year, whatever her ranking.
Wimbledon’s tennis sub-committee allows itself some wiggle room with the seedings.
The men’s seedings is usually based on ATP rankings in conjunction with a formula based on grasscourt results over the previous two years.
In contrast, the women’s seedings usually follow the WTA rankings list but can be tweaked by the All England Club in special circumstances.
“The seeding order follows the WTA ranking list, except where in the opinion of the committee, a change is necessary to produce a balanced draw,” is the All England Club’s official line on its website.
Williams has already benefited from this rule in the past as in 2011 she was ranked 25th before the start of Wimbledon but seeded seventh for the championships.
The Wimbledon seedings committee will meet to discuss the order of the 32 seeds on June 26.
The tournament begins on July 2.
Additional reporting by Martyn Herman; Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by John O'Brien and Pritha Sarkar