Azarenka And Osaka Advocate For 'Life-Changing' Maternity Pay For Returning Mothers

Azarenka And Osaka Advocate For 'Life-Changing' Maternity Pay For Returning Mothers

by Nurein Ahmed

In the past, WTA players with motherhood ambitions had to either wait until retirement to honor such obligations or risk curtailing their careers at the peak of their game.

This explains why only three mothers have won a Grand Slam in the 50 years since the WTA was formed. These are Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Kim Clijsters. The Belgian remains the last woman to achieve this feat, over a decade ago.

Players like Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka have come close in recent years but lost in the final. But thanks to recent changes in the WTA rulebook, it looks like we might see a returning mother win a Grand Slam in the near future.

In 2019, the WTA, in conjunction with the Players' Council and subsequent approval from the Board of Directors, amended the Special Ranking rule (SR) to include players who wish to take a maternity break lasting six months or longer (but resume within three years) to freeze their ranking.

Upon returning to the tour, these players are entitled to enter up to 12 WTA events with an SR within a three-year period, including Grand Slam tournaments. This has eased the comeback process that some of these players go through.

In the past few years, players like Azarenka, Tatjana Maria, Naomi Osaka, and Elina Svitolina have each fulfilled motherhood goals and then returned to compete at the tour level. Soon-to-be mothers Belinda Bencic and Petra Kvitova are also looking to follow suit.

But now, Azarenka and Osaka believe it is high time that the women's governing body introduced maternity pay. In an interview with the BBC conducted in Brisbane at the start of the year, two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka said the issue of financial security for such players would be a "huge win."

"There's a lot more that has to change and I hope that we are on the right track to do it. I think the important part is to change the financial part of maternity leave. I think that would be a huge win for women in general, so I hope we find the resources to be able to do that. I think that would be incredible."

"I have, I'm guessing, more financial security than some players who may be outside the top 100, and maybe have the same desires and ambitions to have a child and continue to do their job."

Japanese star Osaka rejoined the WTA tour in Brisbane in January, almost seven months after giving birth to her first child, daughter Shai. The 26-year-old backed Azarenka, stating that it would be a "life-changing" move, especially for women who want to bear a child but fear of throwing away a career.

"I think it would definitely be life-changing and I feel like having a kid shouldn't feel like a punishment. For most female athletes, I think there's a discussion that your career's going to change dramatically or going to finish because you have a kid, so just appreciating them more and giving more options is something that is very necessary."

The WTA has not issued any comment regarding this matter, although CEO Steve Simon acknowledged that the issue is scheduled for review in a letter addressed to the players at the 2023 WTA Finals.


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