Blake urges seeding rethink after Serena draw

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Miami (AFP)

Miami Open tournament director James Blake on Monday urged tennis chiefs to rethink seeding rules after Serena Williams was handed a tough draw at this week's event in Florida.

Blake believes Williams is effectively being penalised for taking maternity leave by existing WTA tournament regulations.

The 23-time Grand Slam-winning American heads into this week's Miami Open as an unseeded player after taking 13 months off to have her first child.

Such a lengthy absence means she's currently ranked 491 and although the 36-year-old can use a protected world standing to enter up to eight tournaments during a 12-month period - thus avoiding qualifying - it does not apply to seedings.

Her comeback in Indian Wells at the start of the month was derailed in the third round when she came up against sister Venus - their earliest meeting since the second round of the Australian Open in 1998.

And now in her "home" tournament in Miami, which she has won eight times, Williams has been drawn against precocious Naomi Osaka, the Japanese 20-year-old who arrives in South Florida having lifted the Indian Wells title over the weekend for her first major honor.

Special seedings were sometimes applied to those players returning from long lay-offs but that rule was scrapped by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

Blake, the former US player and new tournament director of the Miami Open believes the WTA have treated Williams harshly ahead of her opener with Osaka on Wednesday.

- 'A kind of punishment' -

"I think they are going to start talking about changing the way some seedings are done and I hope they do," Blake told AFP.

"For someone who goes on maternity break, they should be protected. These kind of things shouldn't happen. She has won this title so many times that she needs protection.

"It's not as if she left because of injury and lost her passion for the game. She had a kid which we should all be celebrating so when she comes back there should be a grace period where she can still be seeded.

"It's a kind of punishment which is tough. I hope they revisit those talks although it will be too late for her unless she decides to have another child," Blake added.

Taking on Osaka so early in the tournament will be difficult for Williams who is understandably taking time to return to her very best.

However Blake added: "I may be complaining about it but she never would. She is looking forward to every day as a new challenge and that's what makes her such a good champion.

"But for me, from the outside looking in, it makes sense to protect someone who goes on maternity leave and help her get the benefit of an easier draw and a better path."

Williams, who is a minority owner of the Dolphins, was all smiles as she helped unveil new plans for the Miami Open which will see the Hard Rock stadium converted into a 14,000-seater tennis arena while another 29 courts will be built in the car parks and surrounding area.

"For now I will just be a player, who knows what will happen in the future," said Williams of her role in the new-look tournament.

"I feel every week, every day I am getting better. Having a part-ownership of the tournament is something that I will look forward to. I am always trying to inspire people to dream their biggest."