Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO, has released the following statement: "We are open to making changes in the rule based on the input received from our players. The current maternity leave policy provides a two-year period for an athlete to return to competition by using her special ranking; her ranking on the day she stopped playing.
"She is then provided an additional year to enter the tournaments of her choice. This enables the WTA to guarantee returning players jobs and a three-year period of time to re-enter the workplace.
"Whilst this special ranking can be used to enter competition, at the present time it cannot be used for seeding. We are in discussions with our players and exploring with them what would be the right and balanced standard that they can agree to. Every voice needs to be heard and taken into account as any change would require the full consensus of our players."
Additional context from the WTA's communications department is provided below:
Q: What is the WTA's policy on maternity leave?
A: The WTA safeguards a player’s ranking the day she stops playing for use to enter tournaments when she returns to competition; referred to as a “Special Ranking.”
This Special Ranking can be used for entry into competition, at present, however, the rule does not allow its use for seeding purposes.
A player may enter eight tournaments using the ranking she earned immediately prior to her maternity leave up to three years after the start of that maternity leave.
Q: Has Serena Williams used her Special Ranking?
A: Yes, Serena entered Roland Garros using her #1 Special Ranking.
Another example is Victoria Azarenka who returned from maternity leave in 2017 and entered Wimbledon that year using her #6 Special Ranking.
Q: Does the Special Ranking allow the player to be seeded?
A: No for WTA Tournaments. For Grand Slams, seeding is at the tournament’s discretion.
Q: Is the WTA open to a rule change regarding seedings?
Q. Why not immediately grant players their old seedings?
A. We are exploring how that might be accomplished. As we proceed, it’s important we listen to the thoughts of our members (players and tournaments) on how this might be achieved.
The return from maternity leave to professional tennis is unique when compared to other workplace returns for three key reasons:
It’s a competition – The field of play is constantly evolving in any sport. Rankings reflect the status of competition. This is the guiding principle to determine seeding from tournament to tournament (i.e. a player who earns seeding at one tournament is not guaranteed seeding at all others thereafter. It is earned on a continuous basis).
It’s an individual sport – The current structure of tennis allows only one plane of rankings. Players are competing for a finite number of positions per draw and limited seeds per tournament, both of which are based on ranking. Putting it plainly, seeding a returning player means another player loses her place. The members have differing opinions about this rule. We need to find a standard they can all agree with.
It’s physical – Having a child is a miraculous achievement in every sense, as is the ability to compete at the elite professional level, which is why the WTA offers players two years to return to competition and an additional year (a total of three years) to use her eight Special Ranking tournament entries, allowing players recovery and training time before returning to competition at their own pace.
Q: Does the WTA see Serena’s rank of No.183 in the world to be a fair reflection of her talent?
A: Rankings reflect the status of competition. As players participate in tournaments and win points, so their rankings climb. It is not uncommon in tennis for rankings to advance drastically from one tournament to the next. In 2007, Serena entered the Australian Open unseeded and won the title.
Q: Why does the WTA categorize its maternity rule with long-term injury, when they are not the same?
A: Players are absent from the game for numerous reasons. This policy, as per protocol, was reviewed and decided by WTA stakeholders to remain equitable and fair to all circumstances.
Q: What is the WTA doing to change or revise the current rules? How long will it take?
A: There are many perspectives to consider and there are divided views. Every player has a unique path with both planned and unexpected life events that impact their careers. To review the policy for the 2019 rulebook, the WTA has engaged its members in a dialogue to ensure all voices are heard and rule changes are reflective of what’s best for everyone.