US Open Will No Longer Penalize Athletes for Maternity Leave

After Serena Williams entered this year’s French Open without a seeding, U.S. Open officials have announced that they will no longer penalize athletes whose rankings have taken a hit due to pregnancy-related breaks from the sport.

The institutional change, which takes effect when the tournament starts in August, follows widespread criticism of the French Open’s handling of Williams’ return to competitive tennis.

In an interview with The New York Times, U.S. Tennis Association president and chair Katrina Adams likened the experience to that of a CEO who leaves her company to have a baby only to return months later at an entry-level position.

“It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back,” Adams said. “We think it’s a good message for our current female players and future players. It’s O.K. to go out and be a woman and become a mother and then come back to your job, and I think that’s a bigger message.”

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, ranked No. 1 before taking a 14-month maternity leave to welcome daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian in September. Upon returning to the women’s field in the summer, the three-time French Open winner slid to No. 453 in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings, with the French Tennis Federation denying her a seeding.

Although Adams didn’t mention the new rule’s impact on Williams, the protocol breakthrough could clearly come in her favor if she hits the court this fall. (Williams was forced to withdraw from the French Open before her highly anticipated match against Maria Sharapova because of a pectoral muscle injury but remains noncommittal about her Wimbledon prospects.)

Williams is currently ranked No. 183 in the world, winning six U.S. Open titles in 17 appearances.

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