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Serena Williams' return from pregnancy sparks seeding debate at Miami Open

Serena Williams' return from pregnancy sparks seeding debate at Miami Open

Miami Open tournament director James Blake on Monday urged tennis chiefs to rethink seeding rules after Serena Williams was handed a tough draw at this week's event in Florida.

It means she comes up against rising Japanese star Naomi Osaka in the opening round of the Miami Open, having had to face sister Venus in the third round of the Indian Wells tournament earlier this month.

As she is now ranked 491st and thus unseeded, the American doesn't have a bye in Miami and can face nearly anyone in the first round, apart from seeds that did receive byes.

Williams is unseeded for the tournament, with her world ranking having dropped to 491 after spending 13 months on the sideline during the pregnancy and immediately after the birth of her daughter.

The American won a 23rd Grand Slam before becoming the top-ranked player in women's tennis when she defeated her sister Venus in straight sets to win the 2017 Australian Open final in January past year.

She defeated former grand slam champion Maria Sharapova, fifth seed Karolina Pliskova and world number one Simona Halep in Indian Wells.

Now players who hold a protected ranking for any reason - on both the men's and women's tours - can't be seeded even if their protected ranking merits it and Blake told AFP: "For someone who goes on maternity break, they should be protected". These kind of things shouldn't happen. A legend, like the 23-time Grand Slam champion, deserves more leeway and greater respect by the WTA Tour than she has been given.

Osaka's powerful serving and relentless return game were even stronger in the second and she broke Williams to go 3-1 up and was never threatened again. "There should be a grace period where she can still be seeded".

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"For someone who goes on maternity break, they should be protected", said Blake to CNN.

"I think that's going to be a huge story, maybe the story of the year", said Roger Federer, hoping she could combine tennis and motherhood successfully. Describing this comeback as her "greatest challenge", Mouratoglou says every tournament leading into the French Open in May will be help her make "progresses on her fitness".

However, he added he expected the rules to be "further reviewed". This past year, the WTA made adjustments in order to align a player who is out for pregnancy with a player who is out for a long-term injury.

Special seedings were sometimes applied to those players returning from long lay-offs but that rule was scrapped by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

Naomi Osaka of Japan gives a speech with the trophy after her victory at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

"This match should not be happening in a 3rd round", the Australian wrote on Twitter.

Simona Halep, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, told reporters last week that Williams, victor of 23 Grand Slams, called for more protected rankings.

Such a lengthy absence means she's now ranked 491 and although the 36-year-old can use a protected world standing to enter up to eight tournaments during a 12-month period ― thus avoiding qualifying ― it does not apply to seedings.