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Australian Open Betting: The 1950s thinking that will hamper Serena's return

A 21st century woman . . . but Serena Williams has to return under 20th century rules
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Holder Serena Williams plans to be back in Melbourne barely four months after becoming a mum to defend her title. Ralph Ellis says the WTA should be making it easier for her...

"Serena will return to work as favourite to win the tournament but she could easily face current number one Simona Halep or two Garbine Muguruza as early as the third round."

Of all the organisations, in all the sports, in all the world, you might expect the WTA to be taking the lead in women's rights.

And yes, from Billie Jean King through Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, there have been plenty who have made outstanding contributions in improving the lot of female athletes. Equal pay and prize money is their most obvious achievement, and one that has been echoed in the wider world outside sport.

But there's one area where the women's tennis circuit still seems to lag behind and that is in maternity rights. Just ask Victoria Azarenka, whose ranking is now down to 204 after time off to have her baby Leo and then difficulties with custody court cases that followed.

You'd have thought the WTA would bend over backwards to protect the status of their biggest stars while they deal with such domestic issues, but instead there's little leeway.

When Azarenka, a former world number one let's not forget, returned after the birth of her baby she did have a protected ranking of six. But it gave her rights to entry at only eight events and two of the four Grand Slams in the following year, and no seeding at any of them.

All of which brings us to Serena Williams, proud new mum of little Alexis Olympia, and planning to return to competition in time to defend her Australian Open title in Melbourne at the start of the new year.

She has already been spotted practising, and in Betfair's market for the first Grand Slam of the season she is [4.7] favourite.

That suggests in the mind of most tennis fans that, even three weeks after her 36th birthday, she is the number one tennis player in the world. And yet take a look at the latest WTA rankings and you have to search all the way down to number 24 to find her.

How can that be right? Surely she should be coming back to the game with not just her status but her seeding too protected following her maternity leave? In what other business would a company be condoned for downgrading the status of a new mum returning to work?

Instead they treat pregnancy under the same rules that cover time out for serious injury. That's the sort of thinking that belongs in the 1950s.

Her fiancée Alexis Ohanian took six weeks paid paternity leave. And while as the boss of his business Reddit, the internet giant he founded, he can do that without a problem he's made it clear that his staff all enjoy the same enlightened conditions.

Serena, meanwhile, will return to work as favourite to win the tournament but she could easily face current number one Simona Halep or two Garbine Muguruza as early as the third round.

As if there weren't enough problems already in returning less than five months after childbirth. Kim Clijsters did win three Grand Slams as a mum, but needed special training to build up the muscles around her hips.

While pregnancy does make the heart more efficient - an effect considered not dissimilar to blood doping so that will be interesting if she meets Maria Sharapova - the overall demands on the body will make Serena's return hugely challenging.

There will be enough keyboard warriors anyway suggesting she should be back home looking after the baby and getting her man's tea ready for when he gets in from work. The WTA should be helping her to make them rethink rather than putting extra obstacles in the way.


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