LONDON (Reuters) - The spectre of seven-times Wimbledon champion Serena Williams facing world number one Simona Halep in the Wimbledon first round was removed on Wednesday as the American was named as the 25th seed.
Debate has raged over whether the 36-year-old, 23-times Grand Slam champion, who is down at 183 in the WTA rankings following maternity leave, should be bumped up into a seeded position.
The decision by the All England Club committee means Williams, winner in 2016 but absent last year because of pregnancy, will avoid big names until at least the third round.
Halep is top seed in the women’s singles with 2017 champion Garbine Muguruza at three, while defending men’s champion Roger Federer is number one seed despite Spaniard Rafael Nadal taking over as world number one this week.
When the seedings committee met on Tuesday, the thorny issue of whether to break from the current WTA rankings, the usual criteria for seeding the women’s draw, and elevate Williams was top of their agenda.
It reserves the right to change the women’s seedings to “produce a balanced draw” and Williams, whose protected ranking does not guarantee a seeding, clearly is a special case.
At the French Open last month, when her ranking was 451, she was not seeded and came up against Australian 17th seed Ashleigh Barty in the second round, winning in three sets.
She reached the fourth round before pulling out shortly before her match against Russian Maria Sharapova.
While many have said Williams, who has played only seven competitive matches since giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia last September, should not be penalised for taking time out to start a family, others say seeding her is unfair.
One of them, Slovakian former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova, is the player most disadvantaged by the decision to seed Williams, as she is 32nd in the rankings and would have taken the last seeded spot.
Cibulkova could now potentially face Halep, or Williams, in the first round.
“I think it’s now right that WTA offers a protected ranking. I think that’s good. But I think this is a little bit of a different story,” she said at the Eastbourne championships.
“Why should I not be seeded if I have the right to be?
“I think if it was a different player, not her, I think she would not be seeded. It’s just because she won it many times and she’s Serena Williams. So I think that’s why.”
The men’s seeds show a few tweaks from the ATP rankings with Wimbledon using a formula designed to take into account results on grasscourts.
Last year’s runner-up Marin Cilic is number three seed despite a world ranking of five, while three-times champion Novak Djokovic is 12th seed — five spots higher than his ranking.
Apart from Williams, 2016 men’s runner-up Milos Raonic is the biggest riser with a 13th seeding from a ranking of 32.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson