Wimbledon, which has a tradition of deviating from the rankings in its seeding because of the specificity of grass, is likely to take a different approach. Williams is a seven-time Wimbledon singles champion and won the title in 2015 and 2016, her most recent appearances. Even if rusty, she has to be considered one of the 32 biggest grass-court threats in the world.
Azarenka, a member of the WTA Player Council, said it was important to make a rule that would work not just for Williams but for everyone.
“This conversation was not on the table last year when I was coming back, and I was not seeded in Wimbledon,” she said. “Wimbledon has the choice to do that, and this year they are going to be seeding Serena.”
That is not yet certain, but the WTA Tour once had this discretion, with its chief executive authorized to use a special ranking for seeding purposes at its own events. Lindsay Davenport was seeded this way at several tournaments in 2002, as were Serena Williams and Venus Williams in 2004 before the rule was changed after pushback from other players.
But Davenport and the Williamses were returning from injury, not pregnancy, in those years. The feeling now is that the injury and pregnancy should be treated differently in the WTA rule book. If there is change, it is likely to have little impact on Williams. Simon said if the rule was revised, it would not be put in place until the start of the 2019 season.
He and Azarenka defended the integrity of the process on Monday.
“It’s very easy to say, ‘Oh, you know, they are not seeded, it’s a terrible, bad rule,’” said Azarenka, who is ranked 84th and has a 11-6 record since returning to tour last June. “But there are a lot of things that are going into this rule and into the thought process. So I would like to just, for the record, say that please give us time and we will, as a women’s association, we will make sure that we have the best for women players and for our sport.”
Building consensus does seem the right way to go here. So does making the right move for everyone, not just the greatest women’s player of this era.