American Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been a tennis professional for 16 years, garnering a long list of accomplishments. At age 36, she is peaking again. The Olympic Gold medalist who owns nine Grand Slam titles, has held the No.1 WTA doubles ranking, and owns 27 WTA doubles titles is clearly not done yet. A finalist finish with Polish phenom, Iga Swiatek, at the 2021 French Open is her most recent feat.
When I think of Bethanie’s brand, some “choice” words come to mind; versatile, resilient, candid and fun. She is unapologetically REAL.
At No.30, Bethanie’s career-high singles ranking is NOT shabby. Most players tend to choose either doubles or singles as a specialty. Bethanie has had a long run of appearances in both the singles and doubles draws.
She has won titles with the following partners (and more): Jamie Murray, Vladimira Uhlirova, Mike Bryan, Coco Vandeweghe, Jack Sock, Sofia Kenin, Sania Mirza, Horia Tecau, Abigail Spears, Iveta Benesova, Meghann Shaughnessy, Yan Zi, Raquel Atawo, Nadia Petrova and of course her most successful pairing Team Bucie with long-time partner, Lucie Safarova.
Anyone can step on court with a new partner but to do so and win is another story. Bethanie’s doubles contact list leads me to question, “Dam girl, is there anyone you don’t get along with?”
In all seriousness, doubles is about partnership. Beyond net skills and lightning-fast reflexes, it requires trust, communication, support, and leadership. Bethanie clearly rocks those skills in order to be able to achieve success with such a collage of personalities. I have watched her firepower lift up numerous partners in the bleakest of moments. She frequently steps up as the team leader.
Bethanie is no stranger to injury. Her most public and gut-wrenching experience is, without question, Wimbledon 2017. Disaster struck during her second-round singles match against Sorana Cirstea. Fans watched as she slipped and then crumbled, screaming for help. While listening from a sideline, partner Lucie was in tears. Age 33 at the time, she ruptured her patella tendon and dislocated her kneecap. I still get squeamish thinking of it. The injury required surgery and a substantial rehab period. Previously, she had undergone both knee and hip surgeries.
Post surgery, she took to social media with the “wah wah” hashtag #InBedwithBethanie but quickly transitioned to #GetBackOnTheHorse. True to character, she returned to form winning back-to-back US Open mixed doubles titles with Jamie Murray, 2018 and 2019.
A footnote, Mattek-Sands also suffered from chronic fatigue which was found to be food allergy based. She made dietary changes to restore her health.
From launching shoes to fans after winning the Miami Open, insightful spirited commentary, Team Bucie dance routines, an artful tattoo collection, adventures in hair color and avant-garde court attire, Bethanie is endlessly entertaining. While many players now have active social media content, she was a pioneer of creative content. My guess is her parents watched a lot of young Bethanie shows. Perhaps there is footage somewhere, Tim Mattek?
As I wrote this piece, I read Bethanie’s Instagram post reeling at the loss of her canine love, Ruger. While there are many examples that I could cite, perhaps this is the most apropos. Her eulogy for Ruger spanned from humor, “Don’t’ get me wrong, his ass was pampered” and “Dam the girls loved him” to the realities of grief, “I’m heartbroken” and “it’s soul crushing.”
And as these words underscore the nature of Bethanie, they remind us that tennis players are people too. They battle on court in ways that we cannot, but their off-court battles are just like yours and mine. Often we put players on a pedestal and expect statue-like stoicism. That is entirely our fault. In this year where mind-body-wellness is highly visible, Bethanie shares her poignant reminder. Humanity is the common thread that connects us all. RIP Ruger… you and your mom shared a great and colorful life.