Currently the third-ranked American after Serena and Venus Williams in women’s singles, Bethanie Mattek-Sands enters this year’s Australian Open with a full head of steam. After scoring the biggest victory of her career on Jan. 5 against No. 7-ranked Francesca Schiavone in the Hopman Cup, the 25-year-old Phoenix native advanced to the final of this week’s Hobart International with victories over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Shuai Peng. We caught up with Mattek-Sands to talk about the Australian Open draw, the future of American women’s tennis and her famously adventurous fashion sense.
SI.com: Where are you right now?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: Hobart, Tasmania.
SI.com: What are your thoughts on the Australian Open and how will you prepare for your first-round opponent?
Mattek-Sands: I’m playing a qualifier so I don’t know who it will be until Sunday. Until then I just focus on what I do know and that’s my own game plan.
SI.com: What are your impressions of the draw in general?
Mattek-Sands: Women’s tennis is deep right now. There are a lot of tough first-round matchups between really good players and the sad thing is one of them has to lose. I think fans should be tuned in from the moment the tournament starts as there will be some great tennis.
SI.com: You’ve been a regular at other Grand Slams for years, but this is your first main-draw appearance at the Australian Open. What’s the experience been like so far?
Mattek-Sands: Well, I haven’t even gotten to Melbourne yet so it’s hard for me to answer that. I dealt with a lot of injuries in years past and that’s the main reason I’ve never come down to Australia early for the warm-up events and sometimes skipped the trip all together. I think this year has been my best preparation yet so I’m excited to get going in Melbourne!
SI.com: What are your goals for 2011?
Mattek-Sands: On paper my next goal is top 32. Once you’re there you get seeded at the Slams. After that, my only goals are improving my game and staying healthy.
SI.com: You’re 26 in March, Serena is 29 and Venus is 30. What do you foresee for American women’s tennis when you three move on?
Mattek-Sands: There are some very talented young ones but I think the biggest factor for them to shine is focusing on staying healthy. Too many times I see talented young players stressing out and overtraining and then ultimately they don’t end up reaching their potential. Mel [Oudin], Christina [McHale], Sloane [Stephens], Coco [Vandeweghe], just to name a few, have been having very good starts to their careers.
SI.com: You’re known for your audacious fashion sense. Tennis history is full of daring fashion from Anne White’s lycra unitard at Wimbledon to Serena’s catsuit at the U.S. Open. What are your favorite tennis outfits of all-time?
Mattek-Sands: Hmmm. Well, the one at Wimbledon when I played Venus was the first time I pulled out the high socks, and after that match, the all England Club told me they wanted to keep the outfit to put in their tennis museum. This was a while ago but for U.S. Open one year I got these great leopard print dresses (one hot pink, the other hot green) at a boutique in South Beach. The last two years I’ve been wearing Under Armour and each line has just gotten better. They have these funky colored workout pants that I wore in a mixed doubles match at Hopman Cup and they are my absolute favorite!
SI.com: What’s the biggest thing that’s changed for you since getting married in 2008?
Mattek-Sands: Among other things, Justin adds a lot of stability and organization to my “on the road” life. He’s pretty OCD when it comes to certain things but I’ll admit I’m kind of glad he’s like that. He takes care of the little things so I’m free to just go out and play. Good day or bad I know in the end I get to go home to him.
SI.com: Who is your all-time favorite athlete?
Mattek-Sands: Brett Favre! Funny thing is my husband kind of looks like him. But I have a picture ripped out of a magazine of Manny Pacquiao throwing a right uppercut at Antonio Margarito, whose face has already seen better days, and it almost looks like Manny’s smiling. The caption says FOCUS and I’ve been hanging the picture up in my hotel room.
SI.com: What’s your favorite place to vacation?
SI.com: What’s on your iPod?
Mattek-Sands: Eric Church, Van Zant, Imogen Heap, Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean, Pink, John Mayer … A lot of random stuff but country music is my favorite genre.
SI.com: What was your favorite subject in school?
Mattek-Sands: P.E.! Dodgeball, kickball, four square … You name it, I’ve made boys cry.
SI.com: Who is your toughest opponent on tour?
Mattek-Sands: I’ve had two tough losses to Kim [Clijsters] and Justine [Henin], so I’d love another chance to play them.
SI.com: What is your favorite movie?
Mattek-Sands: Confidence and The Shawshank Redemption.
SI.com: What is one misconception about tennis players?
Mattek-Sands: That we all make millions of dollars.
SI.com: What would you be doing if you weren’t playing tennis?
Mattek-Sands: Not sure! Good thing I kept playing tennis! I’m a spontaneous person and like being creative. I like to seize opportunities as they come, I’m not really a “planner.” One thing I do want to learn how to do is draw.
SI.com: What car do you drive?
Mattek-Sands: A lifted Ford F-350 (King Ranch edition) diesel truck … Yes, really.
SI.com: If you were WTA commissioner, what would you change?
Mattek-Sands: Yikes, that’s a loaded question. It’s probably best if I don’t answer that. I can tell you that I’m on the Players’ Board and have some ideas and opinions!
SI.com: What advice would you give to young tennis players coming up?
Mattek-Sands: Have fun! No really, have fun, be yourself, believe in your game and when it comes to practice: quality not quantity!
SI.com: What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Mattek-Sands: Cheese and dark chocolate, not necessarily at the same time.
SI.com: Name three people you’d like to have dinner with, living or dead?
Mattek-Sands: The Dos Equis beer guy: “the most interesting man in the world.” Enough said. Malcolm Gladwell: I like his books, his stories and his outlook on life’s challenges. Ben Franklin: get his thoughts on the U.S.A. of 2011.
SI.com: Tell us something no one knows about you.
Mattek-Sands: If nobody knows it, its probably better that way!
SI.com: When it’s all over, how do you want people to remember you
Mattek-Sands: I came, I styled, I conquered.