Even in recovery, Mattek-Sands stays colourful

Above: Bethanie Mattek-Sands positions herself before her rehabilitation session in New York.
Above: Bethanie Mattek-Sands positions herself before her rehabilitation session in New York.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Above: Mattek-Sands leaving the Wimbledon court on a stretcher after her injury.
Above: Mattek-Sands leaving the Wimbledon court on a stretcher after her injury.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Bethanie Mattek-Sands still cannot bring herself to watch the video replay of the moment that led to her scream being heard around the world.

In the first game of the third set of her second-round match against Sorana Cirstea at Wimbledon on July 6, she was approaching the net when her right knee buckled, sending her sprawling on the grass court and hollering for help.

"I lived it," she said on Wednesday. "I don't need to see it."

One glance at the kneecap that had ruptured and dislocated so badly that it was pushed up into her quadriceps was enough.

Her expletive-laden pleas to Cirstea were heard not only by everyone courtside but around the world via live television feeds. Her husband, Justin Sands, ran to her side and covered the damaged limb with a towel.

"I just remember going up to the net and hearing a loud pop," the 32-year-old said.

"I felt like my leg couldn't support me. Then I looked at it and it didn't even make sense. I thought I could adjust it and put it back in place, but I couldn't. That's when I screamed."

The scene and the injury shook Wimbledon. So beloved is Mattek-Sands by her fellow players that she has received hundreds of get-well messages from members of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tours.

Three days after being carried off the court on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance, the American, with her husband, was en route to New York, and two days after that, she had surgery to repair a complete patellar tendon rupture.

Despite the ordeal, her disposition was as sunny as the colourful outfit she wore to a physical therapy session on Wednesday.

At noon, she appeared in the doorway of the sports rehabilitation facility at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

She was on crutches, and she wore a cumbersome black brace supporting her right leg and, on her left, a bright pink compression sock - the kind she wears during matches as both a fashion statement and to aid in circulation.

She sported bright, flower-covered track shorts, black patent-leather sneakers and round reflector sunglasses.

Waiting for her was Ioonna Felix, a physical therapist with whom Mattek-Sands also worked with after hip surgery in 2014.

The task at hand was to reduce swelling in the kneecap before attempting, ever so slowly and carefully, to begin increasing range of motion.

She proclaimed her pain level as between four and seven out of 10. Still, she weaned herself off pain medication after just two days, opting instead for ice packs and, on occasion, a shot of tequila.

Mattek-Sands and her husband made the small, nondescript room feel like a comedy club. Sands used his phone to record his wife's every goofy word and movement to share on Instagram. Together, they laughed loud and long.

They have started an Instagram story series called InBedwithBethanie, a nod to the visitors who have stopped by the apartment they are staying in during her rehabilitation.

The apartment is littered with floral arrangements and food deliveries, including homemade pies by Sands' parents and tacos sent by former doubles partner CoCo Vandeweghe. Adam Altschuler, Mattek-Sands' long-time coach, flew in from Budapest to be with them, and doubles partner Lucie Safarova and Kathy Rinaldi, the American Fed Cup captain, check in daily.

During the therapy session, Dr David Altchek, who performed Mattek-Sands' surgery, arrived to check on his patient.

"This isn't a typical injury. I have never operated on a professional tennis player for a ruptured patellar tendon because their footwork and balance are so good. But Bethanie's just too strong for her body, this is definitely not a career-ender for her," he said.

Altchek added that injuries like this require a minimum of six months off court, and three to six more before she will probably be able to rejoin the Tour.

Mattek-Sands studies the Pinterest app on her iPhone frequently. It contains thousands of quotes that she uses to draw inspiration and motivation.

"You may not be able to control every situation and its outcome," she picked one and recited after her therapy session. "But you can control your attitude and how you deal with it."

At least for now, they are her words to live by.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Even in recovery, Mattek-Sands stays colourful'. Print Edition | Subscribe