Serena Williams backs rule changes to help players wanting to have kids

CNN  — 

Serena Williams says the Women’s Tennis Association’s changes to the special ranking rule could encourage players to take career breaks earlier than she did to have children.

The 37-year-old American gave birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia in September 2017 and returned to the WTA circuit in March at Indian Wells.

“I think it’s great,” said Williams of the rule changes as she spoke ahead of an exhibition match against sister Venus in Abu Dhabi on Thursday at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.

“Women that are younger can go out there and have kids and not have to worry about it and not have to wait until the twilight of their years to have children and I think it’s a really great rule,” added the 23-time grand slam champion.

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Under the WTA’s new rules, which will take effect in 2019, a player’s ranking freezes in the event of injury, illness or pregnancy.

As part of the modifications, players returning from pregnancy or long-term injury will be able to use their special ranking at additional tournaments and for seeding purposes.

For pregnancy, that time period now begins at the birth of the child, and players can use that special ranking for three years.

The changes, the organization says, will make it easier for women who want to start a family to return to competition.

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When Williams took a break she was ranked No. 1 in the world. When she returned to play in March after giving birth to her daughter, she was unseeded at Indian Wells and in Miami, losing early in both tournaments.

She also was unseeded in the French Open, her first grand slam event in her comeback.

“I think having gone through the experience myself really opened my eyes up to me and, ‘Would I have done it sooner had there been different rule changes?’ I don’t know,” said Williams, who is currently No. 16 in the world.

“But now that there is an opportunity, people don’t have to ask that question anymore.

“I think it’s a great rule change. But I feel like it’s just something that’s always going to be there and be special and I’m happy that they did it.”

Thursday’s exhibition match was Serena’s first since she lost the US Open final to Naomi Osaka in September.

Japan’s Osaka won the final 6-2, 6-4 after a match which saw Williams warned for coaching, penalized a point for smashing her racket and then docked a game for an outburst in which she called the umpire, Carlos Ramos, a “thief” and a “liar.”

“I’m feeling good. I’ve been training for a couple of months now and I’m getting ready for the new year,” said Williams.

The American claimed her record 23rd grand slam title in Melbourne in the early stages of pregnancy and didn’t play again for the rest of 2017.

Her latest return also ended in defeat to Venus in a third set tiebreaker and she will now head to Perth in Australia to play in the Hopman Cup to complete her preparations for next month’s Australian Open.