Tennis Champ, Serena Williams Shares How Tennis Ranking System Penalized Her For Maternity Leave

American professional tennis player, Serena Williams has charged professional tennis with punishing her because she took maternity leave.

In a new op-ed for Fortune, the 37-year-old tennis superstar and mother to one year old daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr, says the ranking system is “biased” against working moms, and that her return to the game from maternity leave was proof. She said;

”When I returned to tennis from maternity leave, I was penalized for taking time off: my ranking dropped from #1 in the world to #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.”

The Seven-Time world tennis champion returned to tennis eight months after giving birth to her daughter in September 2017. The complications with her pregnancy were fairly public, as were the obstacles she faced when she came back to tennis.

READ ALSO: Serena Williams’ Husband, Alexis Ohanian Reveals The Little and Big Things He Does To Keep His Marriage and Family Going

“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.

Women deserve to be given the same respect and opportunities as our male counterparts. We are entitled to the same open doors.”

READ ALSO: Serena Williams Speaks On Motherhood & it’s Many Complications She’s Been Served With

The Women’s Tennis Association announced in late 2018 that they saw the issues and promised to look out for mothers who return to tennis after maternity leave. The WTA says women players can “use their pre-maternity leave ranking to enter 12 tournaments over a 3-year period,” TMZ Sports.

Still, Serena’s low ranking didn’t get her down. She re-entered the Top 10 earlier this year (read here).

On International Women’s Day, Williams wrote a heartfelt essay about the meaning of the day to her and the lessons she wants to impart to her daughter. Serena who is an outspoken proponent of equality and empowering young women, described the special day as a “reinvigorated call to action,” in her piece for Fortune.

She also accused pro tennis of being sexist.

“In our fast-paced world, expectations for women continue to rise, as do workplace demands and, unfortunately, double standards,” she wrote.

“Women deserve to be given the same respect and opportunities as our male counterparts. We are entitled to the same open doors,” she added.

Williams continued;

“Navigating it all is especially tough for working moms, myself included —- I feel the pressure both on and off the court. Even with all the resources I’m incredibly blessed to have, motherhood comes with so many unexpected challenges, especially when it’s time to go back to work.”

The 23-time Grand Slam Winner expanded on the balance she’s trying to find between motherhood and her career, after giving birth to her daughter.

“Now that I have Olympia, she is my absolute priority —- spending as much time as possible with her every day is so important to me,” she wrote. “But I’m still training to win Grand Slams and sometimes I have to make hard choices about how I spend my time.”

“I’ve cried over Olympia so many times that I’ve lost count,” she continued. “I cried when I stopped breastfeeding. I sat with Olympia in my arms, I talked to her, we prayed about it, and I told her, ‘Mommy has to do this.’ I cried when I missed Olympia’s first steps because I was in training.”

“I’m honest about my struggles as a working mom because I want other women out there to know they are not alone,” she added. “We have to show ourselves and our female counterparts compassion and reality.”

READ ALSO: Serena Williams Ohanian Reveals Why She Opted For a White Guy

However, she realizes that she doesn’t have to sacrifice her career choices in order to have a family.

“Since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of being the best tennis player in the world … but I also dreamed of having a family,” she wrote. “The dream was not divided — it was to be successful in both arenas.”

“I want to stay in this game long enough for Olympia to watch me, cheer me on, and be proud to say, ‘That’s my Mom.’ I want her and all women out there to know you can be whatever you want to be,” she continued. “Dream big. The sky is the limit. Take risks.”

She said that her dreams are “just beginning.”

“I want Olympia to see and remember her mom winning a Grand Slam title,” she wrote. “I want her to know that my work fulfills me, that I’m proud and passionate about what I do even if I’m not perfect at it, and that she should never give up on her dreams.”

“I want her to see a world of possibilities at her feet and to believe in those first steps she took when I was training, every time she takes a leap toward her goals— however big the risk,” she added.

In working to balance time with her daughter and being one of the most successful athletes in the world, Williams wrote that she’s come to an important realization.

“I want to make it clear that perfection is an impossible goal and should never be a true pursuit in life. And this is something I’ve had to come to terms with myself,” she shared.

Williams believes in the power of supporting other women and feels others should as well.

“While I think all women are superheroes, we are not superhuman and we need each other’s support,” she wrote. “We need to give each other grace when we fall short—and when society sets unrealistic expectations or our workplaces have antiquated rules.”

Photo credit: Instagram

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