By Ossian Shine
PARIS (Reuters) – Being awarded a seeded position in a Grand Slam is generally the golden ticket for a tennis player, but 17th seed Ashleigh Barty might well be feeling the unluckiest around.
The Australian cruised past Natalia Vikhlyantseva into the second round of the French Open on Tuesday, only to find that her next opponent is tennis great and 23-times Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.
Williams gave birth to daughter Alexis Olympia last September, and is making her Grand Slam return here in Paris.
As French organisers rigidly use WTA rankings to determine their seedings she is the most dangerous of floaters.
Barty, though, is attempting to put a brave face on it.
“I mean, for me, you want to play the big names and you want to test yourself against the best, and I think any opportunity you can do that is good,” she told reporters.
“But, obviously, deeper in the tournament you’re both playing good tennis. You’re in a spot where you deserve to be… sometimes it’s how the cookie crumbles and that’s how the draw is done, and we’re playing each other in the second round.”
Barty stood firmly on the fence on the issue of whether or not Serena should have been seeded.
“I think it’s an extremely tough question,” she said. “I think probably in certain ways, yes, and I agree with those arguments; and then also I agree with arguments where it’s no.
“I think it’s a tough decision. I know that the WTA are going through all the right processes.
“And I think there are valid arguments both ways. And I think, over time, whatever decision is made, I think the outcome will be right.”
Former world number one Chris Evert grasped the nettle more firmly.
“It’s wrong, they should protect players,” Evert, who works as an analyst for broadcaster ESPN, told Reuters in an interview.
“Not just for her but for the other women who could play her in the first round. It’s about protecting the field too.
“It’s not like you decide to take a year off. I mean if you are forced out of the game for a specific reason, whether it be maternity or injury, you need to be protected.
“You don’t have to put her back at number one because she left at number one but try to figure out some sort of happy medium where it’s fair for all.”
Wimbledon allows itself some ‘wiggle room’ in selecting their seeds, and are unlikely to leave the seven-times champion out of their selection for the next Grand Slam tournament in July.
(Reporting by Ossian Shine; editing by Ken Ferris)