25 May, 2012

One on One with Bethanie Mattek-Sands

While we were at the Mutua Madrid Open earlier this month, we had the opportunity to not only see some of the best players of the world, but to sit down and talk with a few of them.  Thus marks Blacklabel Tennis' first one-on-one interview, dare I say, conversation, with one of the players we watch week in, week out.  American Bethanie Mattek-Sands and her husband Justin were generous with their time in Madrid (not to mention open and engaging).  Each granted us an interview, but with Roland Garros (aka the French Open) kicking off this weekend, first we're going to share our wide-ranging talk with the always interesting Bethanie Mattek-Sands.  

Over our time together, Bethanie discussed...well, just about everything!  

For example:
  • Why you can't lose her or her cars in a parking lot
  • The frustrations of being injured
  • The (perhaps) surprising top ten player she dubs "a closet badass"
  • World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka's "one weakness"
Want to know more?  Read on.

BLACKLABEL TENNIS: Can we talk about the monster truck?


BLACKLABEL TENNIS: OK, first off, whose monster truck is it?

BETHANIE MATTEK-SANDS: It’s actually mine.  Justin kinda got me into the trucks; he had a big truck when I met him.  It’s fun, I mean, driving it you’re literally looking into semi-trucks. [laughs] I feel like I could run a Prius over and not feel it.  It’s a lot of fun, Justin added the camo seats inside so it’s pretty redneck right now actually, to be honest.  It always looks cool when a chick’s driving it.  When a guy’s driving it, it’s like 'This asshole, who’s this?'  When a chick drives it...I remember going to the mall and hopping out and all the valet guys were like 'Oh my God, this is so awesome!  We’ll keep it out front for you!'  Justin’s like 'I never got that service when I went to valet.' 

JUSTIN SANDS: It’s a bad habit, I got her into cars.

BMS: Yeah, an expensive habit.

BLT: Well, if you’re going to get her into cars, monster truck I think is the way to go because how many can you have?  How many monster trucks can one person own?

JS: She has that one, then she has a--she likes fast cars.  She has a ’66 Mustang.

BMS: Yeah, I have a '66 Mustang.  It’s in paint right now, so I haven’t actually driven it yet.  But yeah, you can only have one monster truck, I think, at a time.

BLT: I think? [sarcastically]  I think that’s pretty good on your part.

BMS: Yeah, it doesn’t fit in the garage or anything, so I don’t think we can have too many rolling around in the driveway.

JS: You haven’t seen the green one yet.  

BLT: What’s that one?

BMS: That’s my BMW, it’s wrapped.

JS: We have three cars, mine, then we have the truck, she has her car, but we actually wrapped it.  It’s actually a chartreuse green wrap, basically a giant sticker.

BMS: You don’t lose it in the parking lot.

JS: It was a big hit on St. Patty’s Day.

BMS:  It’s funny, on St. Patty’s Day I was driving around and I was getting thumbs up.  I was like 'C’mon now, I’m not gonna do this just for St. Patty’s Day.'  Actually, when I had my stock rims on, when it was normal, I lost it a few times in the parking lot, so with the green, we can find it now.

BLT: I think the last time I saw you, your hair was more purple, now you’ve got kind of a rainbow thing going, can we talk about that?

BMS: Actually, this is purple; this is what happens when it fades; it kind of turns pink.  It was a deep purple; up here, this was kind of teal.  After a couple shampoos, sweating, playing in the sun, it fades out; but yeah, right now I have about six different colors.   I have orange streaks, teal, dark blue, purple, some pink, it’s a little rainbow (laughs)  You can’t lose me in the parking lot either.

BLT: When the tennis press talks to you, or about you, they talk about the tattoos, the hair, the eye black, the clothes and the socks.  Does that get on your nerves?  Does it bother you that people are talking about your fashion instead of your tennis?

BMS: It doesn’t really bother me, because it’s part of who I am.  Obviously, it’s something different on the tennis tour, so I know people are going to talk about it.  But I hope people don’t overlook the fact that I work very hard.  Tennis is my number one priority; that’s why I’m here.  For me, all of this stuff is just part of my personality.  I would do it if I didn’t play tennis.  It’s something that I would do off the court and I think more people should bring their personalities on the court.  We’re a sport that we don’t have to wear uniforms, so we can be a little free in that area.  I know some of the girls would be more outgoing, but they have sponsors that tell them what to wear.  Other girls will look at my outfits and say ‘It looks awesome, but I would never wear it. It's like ‘Oh thanks!’  For me, it’s just something fun; it’s been something I’ve been interested in for a long time; it’s my personality.

BLT: Let’s talk about your tennis a bit since I made that segway.  You’ve had a pretty rough year with injuries and time off the tour.  Tell me where your head is right now and where you see yourself going over the next couple of months.

BMS: I’m positive right now.  I think, if you would have talked to me a couple of months ago, I was pretty upset after Indian Wells.  I really hurt my hip there and it was pretty taped up.  I couldn’t really move.  It’s frustrating because, I know how I can play and...I can’t.  I’m out there on the court kinda hobbling around and I can’t.  I can’t get to balls, I can’t hit the way I normally hit, so I think for any athlete that’s frustrating, I can’t even play my best.  Last year I was out for a few months, so it’s been really frustrating actually.  You know, I wanna say I was positive all the way through it, but I wasn’t.  I had my moments where I was like ‘F this, I quit.’ 

JS: I had to talk her out of that a few times.

BMS: Deep down inside, I’m a fighter and if I have a chance; if you give me a little opportunity, I’m going to try and take it.  I think right now, I’m in a better place, I’m feeling a lot better and I’m just taking it match by match, right now that’s all I can do.

BLT: I was talking with Justin a little bit earlier and he said you were pulling back a little bit on your doubles to focus on your singles.  Tell me about that decision, how you came to it and what you think it’s ultimately going to do for you.

BMS: When you’re playing singles and doubles in some of the tournaments that are a week long, you’re playing twice a day.  So I wasn’t able to quite recover for that second practice.  If I’m still in singles I might play two the next day.   Then obviously until either you’re out or you win the tournament, you’re playing two a day.  Week after week, it’s a lot of matches and my body just wasn’t holding up.  I love doubles; I love mixed doubles; I play it really well and I’ve had some great partners.  For me, it’s kind of a bummer, but at this point, I've got to really think about what my goals are and I still haven’t achieved a lot of the singles goals that I have, so that’s the priority.  Doubles is more on a side burner, but I still love playing it. I’ll play it at the big events, hopefully I’ll be able to play mixed with Horia [Tecau] again, but it’s just a matter of how I’m feeling.

BLT: Is that on the table for Paris, mixed with Horia again?

BMS: It’s on the table.  We’re seeing, [Madrid] is my first tournament back, so I asked him, if he could wait for me.  I told him I’ll let him know how I’m feeling in the next couple weeks before we settle down and play, but I want to play.  I had a blast playing with him in Australia.  He’s a great partner, great player, and great person.  Mixed is fun, it’s always fun playing against the guys.

BLT: Your track record is pretty good, I mean you guys won the Australian Open.  Anyone who plays tennis, who picks up a tennis racquet, dreams of being a grand slam champion.  Tell me what that was like for you to finally reach that goal.

BMS: It was funny because on match point, I didn’t even know what to do.  I didn’t know what to say.  I just started jumping up and down.  My mom called me and she said ‘You looked like a little girl just jumping out there’ I was like ‘I didn’t know what to say.’  To be able to win the last match and get the trophy, it was pretty cool.

BLT: Just pretty cool, there was no—

BMS: Well, we did drink champagne out of the trophy.

BLT: OK, that sounds good.  That’s keeping with the Bethanie Mattek-Sands story!

BMS: I got a tattoo; my coach got his championship ring tattoo. That was my first slam.  Then, me and Horia might do something.  It was fun.  It was our second time playing together.  We had made the semifinals the year before, so we knew we played well together, but sometimes winning a tournament, you get a little luck too.  I mean, we had some close matches against some good – I mean everybody’s good in the mixed doubles, you’re playing all the top doubles players, the top singles players that enter.  So there are no easy matches.

JS: You’d been in the semis of the US, the semis of Wimbledon in mixed already.

BMS: Yeah, I’d been in a couple semis, so it was nice to get into that last match, and to do it my first time in, to win it.  It was pretty cool.  It was pretty cool.

BLT: I was asking Justin earlier about travel.  Obviously, you don’t get a ton of time to go sightseeing, but what’s your favorite place to play?

BMS: Favorite place to play, hmmm…that’s a tough one.  I would say Australia’s my favorite place to go outside the US.  I like playing in the US; I feel more at home, it’s a closer flight to home.  Charleston’s one of my favorite tournaments, always love going down there.  Um, Stuttgart, I haven’t played it in a few years, but they do an amazing job for the players.  The winner gets a Porsche; if you’re top ten you get a Porsche.  The last time I was there, they spent thousands a day on meat.  Not food, just meat.  They do it right there.

BLT: That might be my next tournament; I might have to go to Stuttgart next.

BMS: Oh, you have to go to Stuttgart. It was a buffet and I think one thing they did right was that the VIPs could pay to eat in there along with the players.  So it wasn’t even just the Players’ Lounge, it was VIPs who were watching the match.  Germans love tennis, every time I’ve been to Germany I’ve had a great time, they’re good sports fans, they’re organized, it’s a good one to go to.

BLT: How was that, having VIPs in the players’ lounge, in the players’ restaurant, how did that feel?  I’ll leave it at that.

JS: Everyone was pretty respectful.

BMS: Actually, it was good.  I think maybe in different cities, it might not have worked so well.  But in Stuttgart, I almost think the VIPs didn’t even notice we were there, they were more important.  Everyone was really respectful of everyone’s privacy, players are trying to eat, get ready for matches.  I just remember everyone having a good time.  The food was unbelievable.  We’d pretty much go there, go play, come back; we’d time it up so that we could hit this buffet like four times a day.

JS: It’s the only tournament you can gain weight at.

BMS: Yeah, it’s a good one.

BLT: You talked a little bit about your goals, Madrid being your first tournament back.  Obviously, it all depends on your body and making sure you're physically healthy, but tell me what you think your next few months look like and what your goals are.

BMS: Brussels is kind of up in the air, depending on how I do in Rome, how I feel, how my hip’s feeling.  Then the French Open and actually then there’s a tournament in Austria on red clay right after the French Open that I’m going to play.  I really like playing on clay, my body feels the best I think on clay, so I’m becoming a clay courter for a little bit.

BLT: You’re the first American to ever say that to me.

BMS: I’m sure I am, not a lot of Americans say that; but for this season, I’m an official clay courter.  I’ve had some great results on clay, so I like the surface, but then obviously, you go over to grass and it’s the opposite surface, but I’ve done well at Wimbledon as well and I’m looking forward to that, but we’re here [in Europe] for two months so it’ll be a good test to see how I feel, week to week, how my body’s feeling.

BLT:  I’m going to do the same thing with you that I did with Justin a little earlier, a little name association.  I like to know what people think of the people around them. 

BMS: Laughs

BLT: Let’s start with Serena Williams

BMS: I said diva. [laughs] She’s got a brand, she’s everywhere.  You turn on HSN and she’s selling all her stuff.

BLT: Right after winning a tournament

BMS: Exactly.  Like eight hours later.  You open up a fashion magazine and she’s got her nail polish in there, she’s everywhere.  I think it’s great.  She’s dated some high profile people, she goes to all the parties, her fashion.…  It’s funny, she came up to me, last year at the Wimbledon party and she’s like ‘Oh, I could never wear anything like this tennis ball dress’ and I’m like ‘You already have, what are you talking about?  You haven’t worn this exact thing, but you’re courageous, what are you talking about?’

BLT: I seem to remember some knee high boots, denim skirt

BMS: Yeah, What are you talking about you could never do it?  But she’s a pretty cool person.

BLT: Christina McHale

BMS: She’s quiet.  Christina is a super sweet, quiet, all-American girl.  She’s playing well right now, she’s kind of under the radar still.  I think because of her personality, she’s very low-key, very subdued, very quiet, just tends to her business, a little bit shy, y’know, but she’s taking people down.  She’s at her career high ranking and feeling good, that’s what it’s about.  She’s been consistent throughout the weeks.

BLT: Victoria Azarenka

BMS: ..Vika…Screecher (chuckle).  I think everyone knows her for her grunt.   I’ve actually never played her, so I couldn’t tell you from experience, I know when you’re playing sometimes you can block things out.  At the Australian Open, she was playing in the stadium and we were like on practice court 15 and I’m like ‘Is that Vika?  Is she playing?  Where is she?’  She was all the way on the stadium, I’m like wow, OK, that’s intense.

BLT: You guys, both spend some time in Arizona, do you ever run into her socially or on the practice court?

BMS: I don’t know if she’s been out there that much since I’ve been out there....I haven't run into her.  Speaking of Vika, I know she has a massive shoe collection, which I wanna see.  That’s her one weakness she said. Great shoes. and she doesn’t skimp out.  She’s got like Chanel, Gucci, Prada, so I’m tempted, I wanna see her shoe collection.

BLT: So who do you think would have the better shoe collection, her or Serena?

BMS: Ahh, Serena’s always had some nice ones too.  What was she wearing some Alexander McQueens last year at Wimbledon?  I don’t know.  I think I’d give it to Serena, because she’s older, she’s had more years to buy things [laughs] I don’t know, I’ve gotta see it for myself.

BLT: Maria

BMS: Sharapova…y’know?   She…she’s definitely an interesting person on tour.  I know she was on Chelsea Handler, Chelsea Lately, the show.  Chelsea straight up asked her, “You’re known for being a bitch on tour” And Maria didn’t deny it, she said “Yeah.”  So if she’s describing herself like that, that’s what you’ve got to do.  She’s the highest paid female athlete right now.  She’s got her brand, she’s intense, for players who haven’t been around a lot, she’s intimidating.  She walks on the court, does the same routine, it seems like you can never get under her skin; you know, she’s kinda the ice queen.

BLT: Would I get in trouble for asking you if you agreed with Maria Sharapova’s opinion of herself?

BMS: Hahaha, you know what?  Hey, I can be bitchy too, so….  I think everyone has their moments.  I think because we don’t really know her, she doesn’t really talk to a lot of people.  I’m sure the people close to her might have a different opinion, but for us, it’s competition, so she probably doesn’t even care if she’s bitchy or not.

BLT: Agnieszka Radwanska

BMS: She’s a closet badass.  I played her at the Australian Open and she had a henna tattoo on her Achilles.  She’s had it there before and I’m like 'So when are you getting the real thing?'  She’s like ‘No, I don’t know, I've got to see if I like it.’  I’m like ‘You’ve had it on there before; I’ve seen like six of them, I think you need to just go get the real thing.’  She’s a super nice person.  Off the court she laughs a lot, she talks a lot, she’s friendly with everybody, she’s really outgoing.  On the court, she’s consistent. It’s tough to beat her.  I mean, we had a battle, what, 3 ½ hours or something?  It was a tough one to lose for me, but she’s, what, only lost to Azarenka this year so far [at the time].  She’s playing awesome this year.

JS: She’s 3 in the world now.

BMS: She deserves it.

BLT: Caroline Wozniacki

BMS: Caro is bubbly; she’s always smiling which I think is fantastic.  What was the nickname that her and Rory had?

JS: Wozilroy?  McWozilroy?

BMS: I was laughing so hard.  She’s always nice in the locker room, always outgoing, always talking to people and she takes care of business out there.  She’s another one who’s everywhere.  I played the tournament in Denmark and it was just like, the Caroline Wozniacki tournament.  We were simply minions attending (laughs), and when Caro showed up it was the main event.   She’s great with it.  She’s obviously huge over there in Denmark and she’s a lot of fun.

BLT: Excellent.  Thanks for your time.


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