Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, each hot on the comeback trail, are finding that it's a winding road. It's about the journey before the would-be destination.
Williams has identified that there is indeed a "blueprint" for her return with coach Patrick Mouratoglou and the rest of her team. Still, she and Azarenka have both suffered some setbacks, not piercing their singles draws yet as they regularly did in their pre-partum careers.
"Every tournament is an opportunity for me to better understand the areas I need to improve to be my best," Williams said in a prepared statement after her first-round Miami Open loss to Naomi Osaka. She had waved off a press conference and that choice's companion $1,000 fine.
"Naomi played a great match and I learn something each time I play. I look forward to continuing my return by progressing every day," Williams added. "I’m so grateful for my fans who continue to support me every step of this incredible journey."
The likes of Kim Clijsters and Lindsay Davenport, among others, have launched successful post-maternity comebacks in years past, in some cases even winning more majors. The current, high-profile situations of both Williams and Azarenka have initiated a crucial conversation about top players' seedings when returning from leave, as the WTA Tour's present policy stipulates that a pro returning from childbirth enjoys a protected ranking for eight events. That policy does not include seedings for such players, though, a matter of consternation to some.
Besides Williams' public statement, other players are certainly having their say. "You know, it's a sensitive area in the way that I look at it from two perspectives," Azarenka told the press in Miami, "because the conversation started because of Serena and all respect to her. If we look at her achievements and where she's come from, where I come from, it might be a fair choice that we do have a seeding in the tournaments after coming back."
She continued: "On the other perspective that I have to look at, as well, is the other players who worked really hard throughout the years and will be losing that seeding. It's a difficult question, because if we do make that rule, it will have to be for everybody. So we have started this conversation a little bit in the player council."
Smile gang gang ????????????????????????❤️???????????? pic.twitter.com/EIPlZxhpit— victoria azarenka (@vika7) March 25, 2018
Azarenka is a part of the WTA player council. Her Miami Open campaign is still alive, as she's into the fourth round. The new mother is hardly alone in this thinking. Said Simona Halep, when similarly asked about the maternity-leave seeding matter after a match:
"I feel that it's fair [to seed top-tier new moms who return]. When someone is giving birth to a kid, it's more than a sport. Like I said, it's something very special in this life, and I have no problems if someone is leaving, No. 1 in the world, to give birth, and to come back to take the seed at the tournaments."
Halep herself suffered a setback in Miami, dropping a three-set encounter early against a seemingly resurgent Agnieszka Radwanska (who Azarenka beat on Monday). It seems sure that the lingering question about post-maternity tournament seedings will hardly go away. Definitely not quietly, not with these WTA leaders part of it.
"My focus right now is to protect women who want to start a family," Azarenka said in a separate presser, "because it's still unusual for women to have a family during their career, especially in tennis. [Serena and I] are fortunate enough to get wildcards in a lot of places, and a lot of women will have to go to the qualifications who were lower ranked.
"So I think there should be a better protection of how many tournaments when you come back you have a protected ranking–and I think that number should be higher.
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9.
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