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And while Dolphins majority owner Stephen Ross teased Williams, saying: "She'll probably be the first person to win a tennis tournament she owns", the eight-time Miami Open victor is fully aware that facing newly crowned Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka in the first round will be a tough task.

The former tennis world champion returned to the game as an unseeded player.

The newlywed - who is an an eight-time Miami Open champion - also hit the football field, where she used a hefty-looking shovel to break the dirt along with Dolphins majority owner Stephen Ross and tournament owner Mark Shapiro.

Let's be clear, this isn't a racist issue- this is a sexist issue.

New tournament director James Blake agreed.

Simona Halep, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, told reporters last week that Williams, victor of 23 Grand Slams, called for more protected rankings. These kinds of things shouldn't happen.

The Miami Open is being held on Key Biscayne for the final time during the next two weeks; and the new era of the tennis tournament officially began Monday with a lavish groundbreaking ceremony at Hard Rock Stadium, where the event will move in 2019 after 31 years at its tropical, if outdated home.

He added "It's a kind of punishment which is tough".

The 20-year-old Osaka, who earned her first career title Sunday at Indian Wells, showed no signs of letup and overpowered the erratic Williams. "I'm very grateful I was able to play her and it is better still that I was able to win".

Ranked 491st in the world, Williams can use a protected world standing to enter as many as eight tournaments, which would include Grand Slam events, during a 12-month period, allowing her to avoid qualifying. Svitolina knocked Williams out of the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Williams will be taking part in the Miami Open which commences on Tuesday in what will be just her second competitive tournament since taking time away from the sport due to pregnancy. "I don't know if anybody knows this but Serena is my favourite player", Osaka said in an on-court interview.

"It makes sense to protect someone who goes on maternity leave", said Blake, via BBC.

Special seedings were sometimes applied to players returning from long lay-offs, but that rule was scrapped by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

The flawless Osaka would not be denied, though, moving 3-1 up by breaking Williams again, and the biggest win of her career was soon wrapped up.

The 23-time Major victor had played her last match in the 2017 Australian Open final, then gave birth her daughter Olympia in September 2017.

"I feel every week, every day I am getting better".

The 16-year-old reached the fourth round at Indian Wells last week but suffered an injury in a win over Chinese player Wang Qiang on Tuesday. "It's not exactly where I want to be, but, I mean, I'll get there eventually".