An Unseeded Serena Williams Looms in the French Open Draw

Serena Williams has not played in a Grand Slam event since the 2017 Australian Open, when she was two months pregnant with her daughter, Olympia.Dita Alangkara/Associated Press

Her fate left to the whims of a randomization algorithm, Serena Williams landed in a comfortable part of the French Open draw on Thursday, with a first-round match against 70th-ranked Kristyna Pliskova.

Williams, playing her first Grand Slam event since giving birth in September to her daughter, Olympia, is unseeded and could have been drawn against any of the other 127 women in the field. She has never played Pliskova.

In the second round, Williams would face either 17th-seeded Ashleigh Barty, who has never defeated a top-50 player on clay, or 81st-ranked Natalia Vikhlyantseva.

Among Williams’s possible third-round opponents are 11th-seeded Julia Goerges, 36th-ranked Dominika Cibulkova, 46th-ranked Alison Van Uytvanck, or the 248th-ranked wild card Isabelle Wallace. Williams’s fourth-round opponent could be sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, the twin sister of her first-round opponent, or Maria Sharapova, whom she has beaten in 18 consecutive matches.

Williams is in the top half of the draw, which is led by No. 1 seed Simona Halep and third-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza. The bottom half features No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, the defending champion Jelena Ostapenko, No. 8 Petra Kvitova and No. 9 Venus Williams, with whom Serena Williams has entered the doubles draw.

Serena Williams, ranked No. 453, has played only two tournaments this year. She reached the third round in Indian Wells, Calif., and lost in the first round in the Miami Open, both in March. She subsequently withdrew from tournaments in Madrid and Rome, which would have elevated her ranking had she played.

The defending French Open singles champions, Rafael Nadal, left, and Jelena Ostapenko, attended the draw for this year’s tournament on Thursday.Thomas Samson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The topic of whether Williams, who was No. 1 when she announced her pregnancy, should be seeded has been debated throughout tennis for weeks. During the draw ceremony Thursday, Ivanka Trump even weighed in, calling Williams’s unseeded status “ridiculous.”

“@SerenaWilliams is a formidable athlete (best ever!) and loving new mother,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “No person should ever be penalized professionally for having a child! The #WTA should change this rule immediately.”

The WTA and its players’ council are considering such a rule, but French Open organizers also had the chance to seed Williams. While all Grand Slam tournaments have the discretion to adjust their seedings, only Wimbledon ever does so, to account for players who excel or struggle on its grass surface. A communications official with the French Tennis Federation said that the French Open had never adjusted its seedings to divert from the rankings.

The last Grand Slam tournament at which Williams was unseeded was the 2007 Australian Open. Williams, then ranked 81st, won that tournament, thrashing the top-seeded Sharapova, 6-1, 6-2, in the final.

On the men’s side, top-seeded Rafael Nadal, a 10-time champion at Roland Garros, is an overwhelming favorite and got help from the draw anyway.

Nadal, who opens against 54th-ranked Alexandr Dolgopolov, is on the opposite half of the draw from many of the men considered most likely to challenge him. The highest seeds with Nadal on the top half — No. 3 Marin Cilic, No. 5 Juan Martín del Potro, No. 6 Kevin Anderson — are all at their least comfortable on clay.

The bottom half is anchored by second-seeded Alexander Zverev, who had his 13-match winning streak on clay ended by Nadal in the Rome final. In the French Open quarterfinals, Zverev could face seventh-seeded Dominic Thiem, who handed Nadal his only loss on clay in the past year, in Madrid this month.

The bottom half of the draw also features fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, eighth-seeded David Goffin and 20th-seeded Novak Djokovic, the 12-time Grand Slam champion, who was the last man to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros, in the 2015 quarterfinals.