I love Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Yes I know that is an outlandish statement. Bethanie Mattek-Sands is a professional athlete, and I’m a regular person who likes to watch tennis.
We’ve never met, we probably will never meet, and I’ve unfortunately never even seen her play tennis live and in person.
She has hundreds of thousands of fans, and I’m just another one.
But there’s something about her that makes me absolutely adore her. Her fashion style on and off the court is outrageous – and I love it. She always looks like she’s having a blast, whether she’s playing in a tournament or practicing or learning new dance moves or just living her life off the courts.
And that smile of hers… it’s so infectious. Her smile makes a mostly miserable person like myself smile too, which is a pretty astonishing feat.
In fact, when I’d see her play, or just hear about her, I’d smile.
I’ve gotta say that I’ve never shed tears over an athlete getting injured. Athletes get hurt often, and inevitably one of our favorite players is bound to be injured at some time. I’ve been upset over people going down with injuries, but ever since Thursday I’ve been pretty gutted emotionally. I haven’t even felt like watching tennis anymore, and we’re in the middle of what is probably the most iconic event of the season – Wimbledon.
But Thursday ruined Wimbledon for me, and literally broke my heart.
Mattek-Sands was in the middle of her second round match on Thursday, when she crumbled to the court and started screaming at the top of her lungs in pain. I’d post a clip of the injury, but I never want to see it again. The replays have been playing in my mind constantly since Thursday. The sight of her kneecap being dislocated makes me sick, partially because I know exactly how that feels. And I’ll give you a hint… it F***ING HURTS. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt, and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. So I clearly wouldn’t wish it on the one athlete I love the most.
But the worst part by far was the screams. Mattek-Sands pleaded for someone to help her. She asked her opponent, Sorana Cirstea, to help her, and while she tried her best (tons of respect for Sorana) to console Bethanie, there really wasn’t anything that could be done. Besides the dislocated knee, Mattek-Sands had also ruptured her patella tendon, which had to add to the absurd pain that she was going through. Her screams continued until the medics stretchered her off the court, and she was eventually taken to a nearby hospital.
Seeing her severely hurt made me want to cry (but I was at work so I had to hold it together). Especially knowing just how important this event was to her.
Mattek-Sands entered Wimbledon as the #1 women’s doubles player in the world, and she was trying to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time with her partner, Lucie Safarova. The duo is known as Team Bucie, and are best friends on and off the court. They even choreographed a dance routine as part of their celebration for winning the Australian Open earlier this year.
Safarova was getting ready to play her second round singles match when she was told of her partner’s injury. She rushed over to Court 17 to see Mattek-Sands on a stretcher, and immediately broke down. Not surprisingly, Safarova lost her singles match, though I give her a lot of credit for even playing after witnessing her partner in anguish.
Mattek-Sands posted an update on Saturday on Facebook Live (she’s a terrific follow on social media and is always posting). She described what happened on Thursday, what the injury was, and how thankful she was for all the messages and support she had received. She also talked about the times lying in that hospital bed when she stopped being positive and started thinking about how hard the rehab and recovery would be.
When she smiled in that video, I smiled. When she cried, I cried.
There were a lot of messages, posts, and tweets from fans and players wishing her well. But by far the best one was from tennis commentator Mary Carillo. It’s actually pretty spectacular.
And yep, it made me cry.
Truth be told, I tried to write this article every single day since Thursday. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to write something about my favorite tennis player – actually my favorite athlete – and I was really hoping it would be after a doubles win at Wimbledon. Once Thursday happened, I wanted to express just what she meant to me and how terrible I feel now that she’s not going to be on the courts for a while.
Sometimes you don’t truly appreciate things until they get taken away from you. I blew my knee out in 2013 – dislocated my knee (luckily it went right back into place), tore my meniscus, chipped my kneecap, and had a defect in my leg that caused me to put my weight on the outside of my leg which was the reason that everything else happened. I had two surgeries, one to fix the meniscus and a crazy one to fix everything else (they stuck a cadaver bone in my knee), and it took me over a year to even get cleared for that second surgery. I spent over a year in pain dealing with a knee that wasn’t fixed, and another year rehabbing after the surgery – learning how to walk and run again while building the strength back up. It’s still a work in progress to this day, but I can run, jump, play tennis, and do things that I wasn’t doing before the injury.
I never liked to exercise prior to the injury except for playing tennis. But I remember sitting at my parents’ house one day between surgeries, seeing someone running on the street that their house was on. I thought, wow I wish I could run like that. Running always looked like a chore, like something that was the least fun exercise you could possibly do, and yet because I couldn’t do it, running looked like so much fun. I could have run for the first 33 years of my life and didn’t choose to. Now that I’m able to run again, I try to run at least one 5K every year (shhh don’t tell my doctors I don’t think running is really great for your knees).
I didn’t appreciate tennis until it was taken away from me for over two years too.
And I probably didn’t appreciate just how much I enjoyed watching Bethanie Mattek-Sands until Thursday.
When I watch that video from Mary Carillo, it truly becomes evident how much she meant to me. Just seeing the crazy outfits, the tattoos, and that damn smile made me remember why I fell in love with the sport a long time ago.
Tennis was always a ritzy-titzy game. You have to be completely quiet during points, there’s a distinct dress code (all whites still at Wimbledon), and it was a high-class, “country club” sport. There really aren’t a lot of outrageous personalities in tennis. Everyone acts the same on the court, and until recently, we never got a chance to see how people acted off the court.
There’s nothing prim and proper about Bethanie. She has visible tattoos; she wears some crazy outfits – which used to contain eye black and knee-high socks; and most importantly, she acts like a regular person that just happens to be an amazing player. She has an outstanding personality and everyone in the sport loves being around her.
Tennis looks simple – you just hit the ball with a racket. But it’s super complicated and extremely difficult to master. Professionals make it look easy, and people like Bethanie make it look fun as hell too.
Thursday wasn’t fun at all to deal with. I’m still trying to cope with the realization that tennis just isn’t going to be as fun to watch or read about now that Mattek-Sands won’t be on the court.
By just being herself, Mattek-Sands made her fans want to be better players and better people.
So now, we need to do the same thing for her. We need to make her understand how important she is to us, and how amazing we think she is. How much we loved not only seeing her win, but just seeing her dance, seeing her outfits, and seeing that damn smile. That smile kills me.
I need that smile back on the tennis court. And when she does make it all the way back, my smile will be as big as hers.
And I’ll definitely shed some more tears. But this time they’ll be happy tears.
I love you Bethanie. Get well soon!
Written By: Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)