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USATSI

Serena Williams left tennis at the top. She was the No. 1 player in the world when she took her maternity leave more than a year ago, coming off of an Australian Open win. She missed 13 months, and now she's back. The problem? She's unranked, and she's entering this week's Miami Open as an unseeded player against Naomi Osaka, who won at Indian Wells, where Williams just played her first event in over a year.

Miami Open tournament director James Blake -- once ranked as high as No. 4 in the world -- doesn't think it's fair to punish Williams so severely for taking time off tennis to become a mother, and he's making it clear as Williams prepares for Wednesday's match.

"It makes sense to protect someone who goes on maternity leave," Blake said, via BBC. "The rules should help her get the benefit of an easier draw and a better path. These kind of things shouldn't happen. She has won this title so many times that she needs protection. It's not as if she left because of injury and lost her passion for the game. She had a kid, which we should all be celebrating, so when she comes back there should be a grace period where she can still be seeded."

"It's a kind of punishment, which is tough," Blake continued, per the Washington Post. "I hope they revisit those talks, although it will be too late for her unless she decides to have another child."

Williams is an eight-time Miami Open winner, but she can't be seeded due to the fact that she's unranked. The WTA no longer does special seedings, although it is attempting to be more accommodating toward women returning from pregnancy. The rule is now written in such a way that those coming back from pregnancy are treated similarly to those that miss time due to long-term injuries.

"This provides for a player to return with a protected ranking but does not allow for a player to be seeded," WTA chief Steve Simon explained, via the New York Times. "When reviewing these rules the players have traditionally expressed they do not feel that a player coming back from a long-term layoff, for any reason, should be allowed to be seeded."

Simon added that he expected the rule to be examined, and said that the WTA is "very supportive of those players returning from pregnancy to the tour."

Contrary to what Simon said, some players do think that rankings should be protected. WTA No. 1 Simona Halep is among them, going as far as to say that Williams should have been No. 1 at Indian Wells, since she left as No. 1 in the world.

"To give birth is the best thing in the world. It's more than a sport," Halep told reporters last week in Indian Wells, California, per the Washington Post. "I think she should have been actually No. 1 seed in [Indian Wells] because she left as No. 1 in the world."

Halep's coach Darren Cahill echoed the sentiment, saying that the fact Williams was playing her sister Venus in the third round was a bad look. Serena lost the match 6-3, 6-4.

He also said Victoria Azarenka should have been given similar treatment, after she missed 11 months due to pregnancy and the subsequent maternal leave.

Williams spent six weeks bedridden after her pregnancy, and she showed quite a few signs of rust in Indian Wells, as one would expect. At 23 Grand Slam titles, she is chasing Margaret Court's record of 24 and likely hoping that she'll be able to return to form before the French Open on May 27.