The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) on Monday introduced rule changes that will give further protections to players returning from pregnancy.
The organizing body said the new rules, which will kick in with the 2019 season, include allowing returning players to use their “special ranking” for seeding purposes.
The previous “special ranking rule” could be used by a returning player for eight tournaments to be completed within one year, but controversially could not be used for seeding purposes in tournaments, meaning they were more likely to encounter seeded players early in a tournament.
The new rule will allow players up to three years after giving birth to use the special ranking for seeding purposes at the first eight WTA tournaments she plays, the WTA said.
Players will also be allowed to “freeze” their ranking up to two times, up from just once.
The change comes after 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams, whose protected ranking was number one, entered the 2018 French Open as an unseeded player after giving birth to her daughter only eight months previously, reopening a long-running debate about the rule.
At the same event, Williams sparked another controversy when she played in an all-black body suit, which was subsequently prohibited by French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli.
The new WTA rules clarified that leggings and mid-thigh-length compression shorts “may be worn with or without a skirt, shorts, or dress.”