Bethanie Mattek-Sands isn't just the 'Lady Gaga of Tennis'

Publication Date: 
Jul 16, 2011

Her outfits on and off the tennis court attract eyes, head turns, headlines and camera flashes.

She is the highest-ranked American on the WTA Tour.

And her last name is not Williams.

It's Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the player who had been known for her eccentric fashion sense, including her now trademark knee-high socks and baseball-style eye black, and not much else. Until this year.

In her 13th year as a professional, Mattek-Sands, 26, has earned her highest ever WTA singles ranking, currently No. 30 in the world. She was seeded 31st at Wimbledon earlier this summer, the first time she's been seeded at a Grand Slam.

"It's (her fashion fortitude) fun, but tennis is what I put all my effort in," said Mattek-Sands, who has lived in Phoenix the past four years with her husband Justin Sands to train with her coach Adam Altschuler. "And now after all these years, now I'm being known for how I do on the tennis court."

It's been a positive career progression for a player who once just made headlines because of her on-court fashion prowess - including a white long-sleeved shirt that was missing a sleeve at Wimbledon - likely to show off her tattoos on her right arm - a gold lamé dress and what looked to be a push-up bra at the 2007 U.S. Open, a leopard-print outfit in the 2007 U.S. Open doubles tournament and a striped cowboy hat in the 2005 singles tournament (a decision she was fined for).

"My priority since I was a little girl was fashion," said Mattek-Sands, who was getting her latest tattoo done in a parlor in Tempe during her interview with The Republic. "It's just fun. It's my personality. I would be that way if I didn't play tennis. I get more attention because I play tennis and I get to play on the world's biggest stage and tournaments. It's nothing that isn't' me."

Some gasp. Some gawk. Some even go gaga.

Fitting, since Mattek-Sands is known as the "Lady Gaga of Tennis."

In fact, Mattek-Sands wore a dress made by Lady Gaga's designer, Alex Noble, at this year's pre-Wimbledon party. The bright yellow ensemble, which was made of parts of tennis balls, grabbed worldwide media and social media attention.

"I told him, as long as everything stays on, I'm pretty much up to wearing everything," Mattek-Sands said. "I told him to be creative.

"It was really fun to walk the red carpet. No one knew what to expect. I have to outdo myself next year."

Even better, she has outdone herself with her play on the court. She had a strong clay-court season, reaching the third round of the French Open. So far she has wins over two former French Open champions Ana Ivanovic, currently 18th in the world, and Francesca Schiavone, then ranked No. 7 in the world.

"It's been an awesome year," Mattek-Sands said. "The biggest thing is being able to start the year healthy. In previous years, I wasn't able to even get to Australia (for the Australia Open in January) and be able to be healthy throughout the year. But this year, I've had good wins in Europe and in the French Open. I'm at my highest ranking - 30. I'm feeling good."

She's had to bounce back from a hip injury and surgery in 2008, which had bothered her until halfway through the 2010 season. But even with her recent success, Mattek-Sands knows she hasn't reached the pinnacle. She was upset in the first round at Wimbledon last month by Misaki Doi, then ranked 133rd.

"I can't stop now," she said. "There's no time to take a breath. I'm at a great point of my career, and it's been a long time coming. This is what I've been working for. Being 30 in the world is not the ultimate goal. I want to be ranked higher, get more wins, get a trophy. I have to keep my head to the ground. It only gets tougher from here. I just have to stay consistent. That's what it will take for me to win some tournaments."

And of course, she's still going to push the limits of tennis fashion. She has talked with Noble about making an on-court outfit.

"But I still have to be able to move," she said. "Whether it happens this year or not, I would love to do it. I think he's creative. And that's how I am on the court. I want him to do a special edition for me. Maybe it'll happen in the U.S. Open. Maybe next year in the Australian Open. That's something in the mix but nothing's for sure yet."

Mattek-Sands does have one particular outfit in mind, inspired by her favorite athlete - pound-for-pound boxing champ Manny Pacquiao.

"I kind of like the robe he walked in with in his last fight," she said. "I might pull a boxing edition in a tournament. That's on my books for sure."