The 23-time grand slam champion suffered early exits at Indian Wells and Miami in her only two competitive outings this year following a 14-month lay-off to give birth to daughter Alexis Olympia.
Williams has not been seen on the WTA Tour since losing to Naomi Osaka in the first round in Miami and has decided she needs more preparation time to compete on clay.
Organiser Manolo Santana said on the tournament’s official website: “We regret the absence of Serena.
“She is one of the great champions of our sport, she has always offered a show to the tournament and we hope to see her again at the Caja Magica in the future.”
James Blake knows a thing or two about hard work and never giving up.
The American, a former world number four, broke his neck after colliding with a tennis net post in 2004 and was around one inch away from never walking again if the impact had been even more severe.
Less than eight months later, remarkably – Blake was back on court. While he had to contend with a lingering back issue throughout his whole career – down to the fact he was born with curvature of the spine – this comeback summed up a man who never fulfilled his talent but epitomised sheer determination and galvanised crowd support wherever he played.
Serena Williams is in the same mould but also a serial champion whose talent and status in the game is unquestioned and cannot be compared with anyone else. A legend, like the 23-time Grand Slam champion, deserves more leeway and greater respect by the WTA Tour than she has been given.
Blake, who is the new tournament director at the Miami Open, the Premier Mandatory event happening in Florida this week, has come up trumps with his comments about seeding rules in women’s tennis. They carry some weight and should be listened to.
He has a valid point when he suggests Williams has been penalised for taking maternity leave by existing WTA tournament regulations. Indeed, she should have been given more protection by the tour.
Those rules specify that the 36-year-old can hold a protected world ranking to enter up to eight tournaments, including two Grand Slams, during a 12-month period – thus avoiding qualifying – but it does not apply to seedings.
After taking 13 months away from the game to give birth to her first child, Williams is currently ranked at 491 in the world and has been handed a tough opener in Miami on Wednesday against in-form Indian Wells winner Naomi Osaka – despite being a eight-time champion of the event and a South Florida native.
Serena also had to play sister Venus last week in California, where she lost in the second round in the desert in what was the earliest meeting between the two since 1998.
“It’s a kind of punishment” – the words of Blake when asked about Serena’s non-seeding and WTA rules which had previously protected players from long lay-offs, but don’t now.
“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.”
Williams has never needed an extra boost by the game’s authority or schedulers to become an all-time great – nor does the fact she’s unseeded mean she won’t go deep or even win in Miami such is her stature – but the point is a bigger one than that.
It sets a precedent and bad example that top female players cannot freely take a step away from their profession through pregnancy and return to where they rightfully and previously belonged. Would this be the case in other lines of work?
It’s doubtful and tennis needs to show the lead in this way, particularly as an individual sport.
This has the feel of more of a common sense issue than a serious one but it doesn’t give much credence to the women’s game, which has made giant strides in so many other aspects, with equal prize money being the standard-bearer.
A household name like Serena carries enough clout to change how the game is run, so don’t expect this issue to end here.
Williams was pregnant when she lifted the trophy in Melbourne last year, and missed the rest of 2017 awaiting the birth of her daughter in September.
Monday’s event, which featured eight players facing off in 10-point “super tie breaks” as they vied for a $250,000 winner’s prize, was a chance to sharpen her skills.
Williams bowed out in the second round, gaining a 9-7 lead over China’s Zhang Shuai but eventually falling 13-11.
“It was good,” she said of the experience. “I wish I would have made a few more shots.”
Williams opened the laid-back event with a 10-5 victory over Marion Bartoli, the 2013 Wimbledon champion who announced in December she was planning to return to the court more than four years after retiring in the wake of her only Grand Slam triumph.
After correcting the protocol for the “rock-paper-scissors” game used to determine who served first, Williams fell behind 4-2, but a double-fault from Bartoli followed by two aces from Serena saw the American great ahead 5-4.
A couple of forehand winners and a service winner saw Williams take an 8-4 lead, and she finally finished it off with another winning serve.
“It feels different, it feels good,” said Williams, who returned to competition with a Fed Cup doubles loss alongside her sister Venus last month.
The birth of Williams’s daughter, Alexis Olympia, was followed by complications that scuppered the player’s plans to defend her title in Melbourne.
But Williams says she’s aiming to be back at her best – apparently more than comfortable with coach Patrick Mouratoglou’s comments to wtatennis.com that her goal for this season “will be to win Grand Slams.”
“I think everyone should have high expectations,” said Williams, who will be unseeded at Indian Wells and open her campaign against 53rd-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan. “That’s the message that I’m sending.”
Bartoli, who was forced to pull out of an exhibition event at Wimbledon last year because of a mystery virus and dramatic weight loss, has said she was targeting a return to the WTA Tour at the Miami Open later this month.
However, the 33-year-old told AFP her timetable would depend on how her body holds up to training.
“I do not know if my shoulder and my knees are going to hold, there are so many question marks,” she said.
“What is certain is that I will not return to the court until I consider myself 100 percent. I stopped the competition for five years – and I’ll be back when I’m 100 percent.”