Tennis: James Blake urges seeding rethink after Serena Williams' tough draw

Serena Williams speaking to the media at the Hard Rock Stadium, which will be revamped to be the new home of the Miami Open.
Serena Williams speaking to the media at the Hard Rock Stadium, which will be revamped to be the new home of the Miami Open.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Serena Williams, who is a minority owner of the Miami Dolphins, was all smiles after she helped unveil new plans for the Miami Open on Monday which will see the Hard Rock stadium converted into a 14,000-capacity tennis arena.

"For now I will just be a player, who knows what will happen in the future... having a part-ownership of the tournament is something that I will look forward to," said Williams of her role in the revamped tournament.

And while Dolphins majority owner Stephen Ross teased Williams, saying: "She'll probably be the first person to win a tennis tournament she owns", the eight-time Miami Open winner is fully aware that facing newly crowned Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka in the first round will be a tough task.

And on Monday, new Miami Open tournament director James Blake urged tennis chiefs to rethink seeding rules following the difficult draw.

The 23-time Grand Slam winner, whose official ranking stands at world No. 495, is for the moment unseeded for WTA events.

If Williams gets past the Japanese world No. 22, her next opponent will be No. 4 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who has received a first-round bye.

Blake believes the former world No. 1 is effectively being penalised for taking maternity leave by existing WTA tournament regulations.

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.

Special seedings were sometimes applied to players returning from long lay-offs but that rule has been scrapped by the WTA.

Blake believes the WTA has treated Williams - on the comeback trail after a 15-month motherhood hiatus - harshly ahead of her opener with Osaka today.

"I think they are going to start talking about changing the way some seedings are done and I hope they do," Blake told AFP.

"For someone who goes on maternity break, they should be protected... It's not as if she left because of an injury and lost her passion for the game. There should be a grace period where she can still be seeded."

In an interview with the New York Times last week, WTA chief Steve Simon said the rules could be "further reviewed".

Taking on Osaka and potentially Svitolina so early in the event will be difficult for Williams, who is understandably taking time to return to her very best.

However, Blake said: "I may be complaining about it but she never would. She is looking forward to every day as a new challenge and that's what makes her such a good champion."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2018, with the headline 'Blake urges seeding rethink after Williams' tough draw'. Print Edition | Subscribe