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Easily one of the most entertaining girls on tour, the 26-year-old American gives it to us straight on US tennis, knee-socks and fighting on court!
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You’re unmistakable on court, both in how you look and how you play.
How much does that represent your character? It’s the way I am. I like to go to the net, I play very unconventional. I have to learn to rein everything in to put wins up on the board. But I like to have fun and if I’m not having fun – if I have a day when I’m not playing my game – it won’t be fun for me. There’s no point in doing that!
Let’s talk knee-socks. Superstition or style?
The thing is, I actually wear a compression sleeve underneath my socks. I actually have bad circulation in my legs and I had a foot problem which was due to circulation – when I fly my ankles get swollen – so they’re actually for a reason! I try not to be superstitious. If I find myself going to the same shower cubicle in the locker-room because I won, I’ll make myself go to another one! You’ll drive yourself nuts!
You were away from the game for two months after hip surgery at the end of 2008. Did that spell help renew your love of tennis?
Yeah, you miss it. I was told it might be touch and go if I could come back. My surgeon said, ‘Maybe just play doubles,’ and I was like, ‘Come on! I’m 24, I don’t just wanna play doubles!’ It was a lot of work but my motto is ‘you live once’. I’m only going to play professional tennis for X-amount of years. I might as well enjoy it – do it my way!
Is the best of Bethanie Mattek-Sands still to come then?
For sure. I’m gaining momentum. I’m starting to play more and more against the top players and starting to figure them out and I’m gaining confidence in those big matches. I think that’s what everyone wants, that experience. There are a lot of emotions that go into it – you’re fighting, you’re doubting, you’re positive, you’re negative – and you’ve got to control all of that.
We heard that after you lost to Monica Niculescu in Estoril you wrote down three things about your tennis. Tell us more...
I was not happy with that loss. She plays a very funky game and played well that day but I played terrible, and I wasn’t true to my game. For me, to lose and to not play my game is the worst. If I lose and I’m playing my game, I’m cool with that, but if lose a game because I just choose to be a puss’... You know, in my mind, I’m saying, ‘Stop being such a pussy and go for it!’ So afterwards I wrote down what I define as ‘my game’ – take returns early, do something with the second ball and take time away from players.
With Venus and Serena’s fall down the rankings, you could soon be US No.1. Is that important to you?
Being No.1 in the US being No.31 [in the world], whatever I am, gets me nothing. Nobody cares. US tennis – you have to win slams, you have to be No.1, otherwise nobody really cares about you. Even further than that, you can’t really care what people think about you. I put myself out there with my high socks, and my outfits, and that’s just me. Some people are gonna love it, some people aren’t, and that’s just the way it is. I’m not as big of a badass as everyone thinks I am – I just want to have fun. Everyone gets a little sti! around tennis. I really love tennis and I don’t want to see it die out with the next generation.
What do you think tennis has to do to attract more kids to the game?
Kids have so many other avenues to turn to for entertainment, especially in the US competing with football, baseball and basketball, on top of music concerts, movies... What makes a kid want to grow up and be a tennis player? I mean what’s cool about playing tennis? You gotta be quiet, you can’t swear, you gotta wear white – I mean that’s really what kids think! And I think, in a way, in American tennis, that’s why kids are choosing other things.
"I’M NOT AS BIG A BADASS AS EVERYONE THINKS I AM. I JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN. EVERYONE GETS A LITTLE STIFF”
So how come you ended up playing the sport?
My dad played pro basketball in Asia for a little bit and he was always very athletic. My mom was athletic in high school and college but nobody played tennis. My dad was working a lot when I was little and to spend time with me he’d take me to the tennis courts and play and I ended up being pretty good! I was like nine years old and beating up 17-year-olds and their parents would go to my dad and they would be, like, so pissed! But I played a lot of sports growing up – I’d steer kids away from just playing tennis.
So would you encourage your own kids to play?
I don’t know if I want to go through tennis again, I don’t know, there’s so much... junior tennis sucks. That’s another reason American tennis [is struggling] – it’s a grind. I don’t think players are expecting it to be such a grind. You gotta come to Europe for three months and just duke it out at Challengers and Futures to get your ranking up, week in week out, crap hotels, crap food, languages you don’t speak and I think there’s a lot of opportunities in the US that kids are saying, ‘Hey, that’s a little better than being 100 in the world in tennis.’ Tennis is such a great sport, though, and that’s why I’m open with it and I’m ok with being open.
Would you change anything about the sport?
It’d be interesting to poll what fans thought. My husband and his friends back home are huge sports fans, they watch ESPN, but they don’t have a clue about tennis. I got some of them on court and they were like, ‘I can’t believe you hit it so hard!’ I just think people don’t know and there needs to be a better way to market tennis and that’s tied up with making it interesting and if there’s nothing interesting in tennis it makes it tough for the media to say, ‘Hey, check these guys out!’ It’d almost be better if someone got in a fight on court or something – it’d make ESPN Top Ten, let’s be honest! Even the players, agents tell them, you know, ‘You only got two minutes to talk to press, and don’t say this...’ and I think a lot of people aren’t themselves with the press which makes it kinda boring too.
Didn’t you once make a comment about players looking identical on court?
Yeah, I was watching a match – two girls dressed headto- toe in the same thing, blonde hair, ponytail – and I didn’t even know who was who, and I play with them! Fans will have no clue!