Serena Williams was seeded No. 25 for her return to Wimbledon after having a baby, a decision by the All England Club announced Wednesday that elevates the tournament’s seven-time champion above her ranking of 183rd.
While WTA rules allow women who miss time because of a pregnancy to enter events based on their pre-absence ranking, there is no guarantee of a seeding, a policy which has been the subject of much debate in recent months because of Williams’ status. The 36-year-old American gave birth to a daughter last September and was off the tour for more than a year.
By moving Williams into the top 32, the All England Club afforded her "protection" from facing any other seeded player in either of the first two rounds — and, of course, allowed the other seeds to avoid facing her that early, too. Williams is a former No. 1 whose 23 major singles championships are a record for the professional era, which began in 1968. She missed Wimbledon in 2017, but won the title the last two times she was in the field, in 2015 and 2016.
Putting Williams at No. 25 now means that she could face someone seeded No. 1 through No. 8 in the third round.
The draw for Wimbledon is Friday; play begins Monday.
Wimbledon and other Grand Slam tournaments have leeway to stray from strictly following the WTA and ATP rankings when determining seedings. That’s why, for example, eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer’s success on grass courts was taken into account when the All England Club bumped him up a spot to No. 1 on Wednesday, while top-ranked Rafael Nadal is seeded No. 2.
When Williams entered the French Open in May, her first Grand Slam action in 16 months, she was not seeded by the French tennis federation. She wound up beating the women ranked No. 11 and No. 17 en route to reaching the fourth round. But because of an injured pectoral muscle, Williams pulled out of Roland Garros before what would have been a showdown against five-time major champion Maria Sharapova.
The U.S. Tennis Association says it does intend to seed Williams for the U.S. Open, which begins in August. That is part of a new plan, first reported by The New York Times, to take into account if a pregnancy affected a player’s ranking.
"Pregnancy will not be penalized," USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said. "If Serena Williams enters the 2018 U.S. Open, the USTA will recognize her accomplishments, recognize her return to the workplace and will seed her, regardless of what her ranking is."
One effect of Williams’ being seeded at the All England Club: The 32nd-ranked Dominika Cibulkova, a two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist and the 2014 Australian Open runner-up, will not benefit from a seeding and could play anyone in the field in the first round.
"I don’t think it’s the right thing to do," Cibulkova told British broadcaster BBC ahead of Wednesday’s seeding announcement. "I think it’s just not fair."
No unseeded woman has won the Wimbledon singles championship. Only two unseeded men have raised the trophy at the All England Club: Boris Becker in 1985, and Goran Ivanisevic in 2001.
Aside from the All England Club’s placing of Williams, the women’s seedings align with the rankings. So French Open champion Simona Halep is No. 1, Australian Open Caroline Wozniacki is No. 2, reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza is No. 3, and U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens is No. 4.
Sharapova is seeded 24th.
In the men’s draw, after Federer and Nadal, 2017 runner-up Marin Cilic is No. 3, followed by Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin del Potro.