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Serena Williams Says WTA Penalized Her for Taking Leave After Having Daughter

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2019

United States' Serena Williams makes a forehand return to Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

Serena Williams wants to use her personal experience to create change in the world.

In an essay for Fortune on International Women's Day, Williams called out the Women's Tennis Association for "penalizing" her for taking time off during and after her pregnancy, citing her tumble down the world rankings:

"When I returned to tennis from maternity leave, I was penalized for taking time off: My ranking dropped from No. 1 in the world to No. 453. That required me to face tougher competition earlier in the French Open, which led to a pectoral injury that forced me to drop out. I fought hard personally, making it to the Wimbledon final shortly after, but I also fought hard publicly against the biased ranking system. We must stop penalizing women when they return to their careers after having children."

Williams was near, if not at, the top of her game prior to the birth of her first child. She even won the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant—the 23rd major title of her storied career.

She gave birth to her daughter, Olympia, in September 2017.

In Williams' year away from the court, she plummeted down the WTA rankings. As a result, she found herself having to face better-ranked opponents earlier in tournaments when she returned.

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It did not take long for her to start climbing back up the rankings, though. After making it to the fourth round of the 2018 French Open in her first major tournament since giving birth, she made it to the championship match in the following two majors.

After her defeat to Angelique Kerber in the 2018 Wimbledon final, Williams gave a shoutout to all the moms in the world:

She further discussed her comeback road in her Fortune essay:

"When I was getting back into training last year, I needed a lot of physical recovery. But not only was the work taxing on my healing body, it was emotionally draining too. I felt overwhelming guilt whenever I wanted to take 'me' time, with the nagging feeling that any extra moments should be spent with Olympia. When things were at their most challenging, the unwavering support of my mom, sisters, and friends helped me through. I want to remind all women reading this about the importance of supporting one another through the highs, lows, laughs and tears, and always asking for help when it’s needed. Trust me when I say: We've all been there before."

Not only has Williams returned to tennis, but she has also proved that she remains among the sport's elite. She has worked her way back up to 10th in the WTA rankings.