You come into the net hoping for an easy putaway volley. Your opponent obliges with a straightforward floated backhand down the centre of the court. You move forward. Raise your racket. Set your position and BANG.
Except the bang wasn’t the sound of the ball clattering off your racket and hitting the grass for a clean winner. It was your kneecap dislocating and your patellar ligament rupturing from the force.
This was the terrible event that befell the colourful, talented and successful American athlete Bethanie Mattek-Sands at Wimbledon in 2017. As she lay crumpled on the court during her second round encounter with Sorana Cirstea people began to realise just how serious the injury was.
She was loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher there and then. Fans wondered whether that would be the last that we would ever see of the girl with the funky hairstyles and the knee-high socks on a professional tennis court.
The Road to Recovery
Amazingly, it was less than a year from that heart-breaking collapse that the Minnesota-born woman was back on the WTA Tour. Miami acted as the host as Alize Cornet defeated the brave Mattek-Sands in straight sets, but in many ways the result was irrelevant. The victory was for Mattek-Sands and tennis in general.
Sure, she is now ranked outside the top 400 in singles. She has also only won two main draw singles matches since her return. But, at 34, it is clear that she has decided to concentrate on her career in doubles.
Mattek-Sands has always been an exceptionally gifted operator in the world of doubles. Her partnership with Lucie Safarova brought the pair five Grand Slam titles, including three in a row up to her horrific injury. Understandably, Safarova was crushed and heart-broken by her partner’s injury as well.
With that doubles background though, it was always likely that doubles would be the arena that Mattek-Sands would find some success in once more. With Safarova struggling with injury and eventually retiring in early 2019, it has been difficult for Mattek-Sands to recover that high women’s doubles ranking and win more titles.
Grand Slam Champion Again
It has been a new relationship that has brought delight and, ultimately, resurrected Mattek-Sands’ life as a champion. Jamie Murray proved to be an inspired choice as a partner. He had been men’s doubles #1 whilst winning two Grand Slams with Bruno Soares, and had three mixed doubles titles under his belt, including the 2017 US Open title with Martina Hingis.
The US Open win for Murray/Mattek-Sands in 2018 brought Flushing Meadows to its’ feet in rapturous applause as they welcomed back one of their own to the winners’ circle.
US Open 2019: Déjà vu for Murray/Mattek-Sands
It was an obvious decision for the two to remain partners for 2019. This had not led to further success until they stepped back onto the Flushing Meadows hard courts just over a week ago.
Clearly being on American soil suits this pair as they have marched through the draw quite convincingly. So, once again, Bethanie Mattek-Sands will grace the Arthur Ashe court in a final.
It will take an almighty performance to defeat the #1 seeds Chan and Venus. However, no matter how difficult the battle becomes no tennis match will come close to the battle Mattek-Sands has already fought, and won, with her body.
Main Photo from Getty.