Serena Williams is given the No. 25 seed for Wimbledon
By LIZ CLARKE | The Washington Post | Published: June 27, 2018
Wimbledon officials have given the tournament's seven-time victor Serena Williams the No. 25 seed for its 2018 Championships, a decision that acknowledges her exemplary record on grass and, unlike last month's French Open, will not excessively penalize her for a 13-month maternity leave.
During Williams' time away from the sport, her ranking plunged from No. 1 in the world (not long after she won the 2017 Australian Open while two months pregnant) to outside the top 400 following the birth of her daughter, Olympia, in September.
She is now ranked 183, posting a 5-2 record since returning to the pro tour in March.
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, the game's top players at the moment - such as defending champion Sabine Muguruza, French Open champion Simona Halep and reigning U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens - are protecting against facing Williams in an early round.
No player has dominated women's tennis like Williams, 36, who holds a record 23 Grand Slam titles.
In May, French Open officials declined to grant her a seed, touching off a debate about how the sport should treat its ranked players who return from the game following childbirth. Several current and former players (men and women alike) argued that to force a top player to start at the bottom, without a seed, 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.
Wimbledon will release the draw on Friday. The tournament gets underway Monday.
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.
In the run-up to Wimbledon, Caroline Wozniacki advocated expressly for Williams, calling on tournament officials to award her a seed.
"She [Serena Williams] is the greatest player to ever play the sport," Wozniacki told reporters during a grass-court tune-up earlier this week. "Having won so many Grand Slams and being number one for so many years, she deserves a seeding."
Despite the lack of a seed, Williams won her first three matches at the recent French Open but was forced to withdraw just hours before her four-round meeting with Maria Sharapova after injuring a pectoral muscle. At that point, most analysts said Williams had improved at each stage but had not reclaimed her peak form. That, in turn, makes seeding-decisions tricky, as any tournament's seeds should reflect players' ability at the time.
Williams has been frank about the difficulty of childbirth. Her daughter was delivered by an emergency C-section on Sept. 1. Williams developed life-threatening blood clots in the process and was confined to bed rest for six weeks afterward.