Serena Williams' French Open seed denial stirs fresh gender debate

Not seeding Serena in wrong — Evert

TENNIS STAR Serena Williams will return to the French Open next week - but this time as an unseeded player. Tsonga, Monfils and Gasquet are all now ranked outside the world's top 30, with Pouille the French number one at 16th.

Rafael Nadal comes into the tournament, which begins May 27 at Roland Garros, in strong form on his favored surface, while Serena Williams is set to make her return to the major championship stage in the women's tournament.

But will 2018 be the year when Serena Williams erases Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam titles?

But at Roland Garros, an event she has won three times, organisers are not ready to take such a step with the French Tennis Federation (FFT) reaffirming the seedings will reflect the latest WTA rankings.

That leaves the 23-time Grand Slam singles victor, who was ranked No. 1 in the world at the time she went on maternity leave, in danger of having to square off with a top player in the early rounds - and those players are facing the same unpleasant possibility.

Though she has only played in two WTA tournaments since her return - winning two matches and losing two - and has not played competitively on clay since losing in the French Open final in 2016, Williams' coach Patrick Mouratoglou is still confident the American can clinch a fourth French Open title.

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Serena had a tough time giving birth.

"It's such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally", Sharapova said, adding: "There's just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions to the physicality of every single day". Not to mention short-sighted on the part of French Open officials, who risk seeing one of the world's most popular athletes make an early exit from her first major since she had her daughter because she'll face top competition right away. She was not ready yet but needed to feel the competition, so she chose to play even though she was far from being at 100 percent. I mean if you are forced out of the game for a specific reason, whether it be maternity or injury, you need to be protected.

"It's wrong, they should protect players", said Evert.

Maria Sharapova also spoke up in support of her longtime rival last week. She was not seeded at either tournament. Without a seed, Williams is likely to face an uphill battle as she plays against more experienced players earlier on, a dynamic that contributed to her middling performance at the March tournaments.

Williams commented on the frequency of the tests Monday on Twitter. She is ranked 453rd this week. But I feel like I always had a chance, and they kind of slip away, all the matches somehow, so even if it's a little bit disappointing, I feel like I was there and I had my chances.

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