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Williams-Osaka draw raises questions over seeding rules

media Serena Williams, 23-time Grand Slam winner, was drawn against Naomi Osaka for this month's Miami Open tournament. Reuters/Edgar Su

The head of the Miami Open tournament on Monday urged tennis officials to reconsider seeding rules after 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, unseeded after a 13-month maternity leave, was drawn against Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka.

James Blake, a former world number four who serves as the tournament’s director, said rules in women’s tennis are “a kind of punishment” for players who take maternity leave.

Blake made the comments after Williams was drawn against 20-year-old Osaka, who won her first major title at Indian Wells at the weekend.

The match means either one of tennis’s most established or most promising talents will be eliminated in the first round.

“It’s not as if she left because of injury and lost her passion for the game,” said Blake of Williams’s absence. “She had a kid, which we should all be celebrating, so when she comes back there should be a grace period where she can still be seeded.”

Williams’s 13-month absence means she is currently ranked 491.

The 36-year-old can use a protected world standing to enter up to eight tournaments during a 12-month period without having to qualify.

But protection does not apply to seedings and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) scrapped a former rule by which special seedings were sometimes applied to players returning from long absences.

“It makes sense to protect someone who goes on maternity leave,” said Blake, who questioned whether the rules should be changed.

“The rules should help her get the benefit of an easier draw and a better path.”

Williams’s own comeback in Indian Wells in early March was derailed by her sister Venus in the third round.

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