Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ tennis career could double as an In Style fashion timeline: knee high socks, leopard prints, dyed hair, evening wear blouses and knit socks with bows—she’s worn all of it on the court. But she’s also garnered attention for her play. The American reached the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2008, has been ranked as high as No. 37 in singles, and has won eight WTA doubles titles. In April, Mattek-Sands was the first star of the United States-Russia Fed Cup semifinal tie: she won her final singles match, then immediately afterwards, won the decisive doubles match alongside Liezel Huber.
With her heroics fresh in mind, Mattek-Sands stopped to chat with us about the Fed Cup, and a few off-court subjects, like not wearing white to her wedding, tattoos and shopping malls:
TENNIS.com: Let’s start with Fed Cup. You were kind of the hero this time.
Mattek-Sands: Yeah I guess so! Obviously, it’s a team effort and Mel [Oudin] started us out on a good note on the first day (Oudin defeated Alla Kudryavtseva) and I was able to pull out the second singles on the next day to keep us in it. It was amazing! During my singles match against [Ekaterina] Makarova it was intense. I was pretty emotional during that match and normally I’m pretty reserved on court, but I was letting my emotions go. I got a couple of bad call, but the crowd really started getting into it and that really pumped me up. It was an amazing feeling. I would have to rank that one of the best tennis moments of my life.
What was with that gesture after you hit the drop shot? (After hitting a winning drop shot to go up 4-1 in the final set, Mattek-Sands responded by sticking her hands out and wiggling her fingers towards the fans.) Is that your thing?
(Laughs) I have to tell you, that was really funny! In the press conference they described it as a WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) thing. And I don’t even watch WWE! It was spur of the moment.
My drop shot hadn’t really been working. We were playing on a fast hard-court, so I tried pulling it out and it was tough. But that one was at the right time; I had just gotten a tough call two points before and I was pumped. I finally made a drop shot winner and I was ecstatic. It was my way of pumping myself up.
What do you think of the Fed Cup format? You just played the semis, but the final isn’t until November. Does that schedule bother you? Would you prefer a different format?
It is kind of tough, [the final] being so far away. It’s not until November, so to let that many months go in between, it is pretty tough to get around tournament schedules. I know there’s talk about having it all done within a week or making it a more (traditional) tournament format where there might be a specific location picked; there have been a lot of ideas thrown around. It would probably be more convenient for a lot of players’ schedules. It’s definitely a commitment to play Fed Cup and I wanted to do it my whole career. Things could be changed to make it a little easier.
There was a lot of talk about Venus and Serena Williams not playing. Do you think the Fed Cup should stick to the same team all year?
That option has never been brought up, sticking to one team for the year. It’s tough to say. If it were to be a one-team format, teams would be made differently. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to see who really wants to commit to Fed Cup. Obviously if Venus or Serena would have come [against Russia] I wouldn’t have been able to play singles, so without them being there, it gave me the opportunity to come up with the win and have that experience. They’re the number one and four players in the world, so you can’t tell them no. It’s just tough because the team that was there was the team that really wanted to be there, wanted to play for the U.S. and made the commitment to either withdraw from tournaments or not play tournaments. It’s a team event, and that’s what it should be first and foremost.
Where are you now?
Rome. The next day [after Fed Cup] we drove to Atlanta and then flew to Rome. I start qualies tomorrow. (Mattek-Sands qualified, defeated Oudin in the first round, then lost to Jelena Jankovic in the round of 32.)
I’m playing with Yan Zi, who I played with in Australia and I’ve been playing with a lot this year. We’re going to play the whole European schedule.
What about Nadia Petrova? You guys were a pretty good team last year. (The pair won Charleston and Stuttgart in 2009.)
We did great, but at the end of last year it was tough because I couldn’t play due to injury, so she found another partner, Sam Stosur. This year, I wasn’t too sure where or when I was playing because of the injuries, so it was tough. We’re definitely open to playing with each other again. We did great last year; it’s just a matter of commitments and tournament schedules.
Let’s talk about fashion! I was looking at some pictures on your website. Did you wear a black wedding dress?
(Laughs) I did!
How did that come about?
It’s funny, I went dress shopping with my mother-in-law and I had an idea that I was going to have one made—think Jennifer Lopez, that one she wore to the Grammys (in 2000), that green Versace one. Something like that, but not as risqué. Maybe in silk. I went shopping and went through the store really quickly. I didn’t try anything on and the owner came up to me and said, “There are a lot of dresses here and we’re kind of a boutique store, why didn’t you want to try anything on?” I said, “I just don’t want to wear anything pastel pink or white or even off-white,” so she said, “Listen, I have this one dress in the back, it’s black but it’s from an evening line.” I tried it on: perfect fit from the beginning, first dress I tried on, so I took it! I knew I wasn’t going to wear white, but the black was a spur of the moment decision.
On-court you’ve tried lots of stuff fashion-wise. Lately it seems your look is high socks, short shorts and a headband.
So far, the high socks have been my look. I’m switching up the colors of the socks a lot. I’ve been wearing Under Armour gear since the U.S. Open last year, working with the colors they have, but hopefully I can get a little more creative once they expand their tennis line. I’m always looking for something new. Right now I’m staying with the high socks, but the newest thing I’m opting for is body art—adding to my tattoos.
How many do you have?
Technically two. They are all on my right arm, on the inside. The day before I left for Fed Cup I was on the chair for a couple of hours. On the bottom part of my arm there are bees flying around. My nickname growing up was “killer bee”—people still always call me “bee”—so I got some killer bees on my arm and then flowers on the top. It’s actually not finished yet, but I have to wait until after the European swing when I’m back home.
Did you get them in Arizona (her current home)?
Yeah, I went to Club Tattoo (in Tempe). I went to the same place for both of them. In the end I want to combine them so it will look like one running all the way up my arm.
Wow! How about the pain?
The inside of my arm, by my bicep, was definitely pretty sensitive (laughs). I think two hours in the chair was a good limit for me.
Can you even pick up a racquet after that?
I practiced two days afterwards and it was definitely a little sore; it feels kind of like a bad sunburn when it is rubbing against your clothing. But I’ve had plenty of bad sunburns, so I can deal with that.
When you were growing up did you have any fashion role models, or did you always have your own kind of style?
When I was younger, growing up in Wisconsin, I wore flannel shirts, Lee jeans and hiking boots. I was not on top of fashion whatsoever. I think when I hit 17, I was down in Miami a couple of times and I came out of my shell. I remember my first couple of shopping sprees, one of them was in New York City after maybe my second or third U.S. Open, and I was like, “I won some money, I’m going to go shopping in New York City!” I always flip through magazines to see what everyone is wearing and to see what the trends are. It’s just something that interests me.
You grew up in Wisconsin? And Florida, too? Seems like you’ve been over the place.
I was actually born in Minnesota. I was there longer than Wisconsin, and when I was 12, I went to Florida to move to Boca Raton. I’ve been in Arizona the last three years.
You must have gone to Town Center (a mall) when you were in Boca.
Town Center is an unbelievable mall. Since I moved from there, they’ve made additions and they have awesome stores. Whenever I go, I love walking in there; they have some good stuff.
It’s gotten so big over the years.
Yeah, they keep adding wings and it’s pretty crazy. But I have to say that the shopping is really great in Scottsdale, AZ. They have everything from the small boutiques to the Fashion Square mall, which is unbelievable. They opened a whole new wing and they now have a Barneys. Their shoe selection is amazing. I’m always trying to get my husband to go shopping with me.
Is he on tour with you? How do you guys handle the tour and marriage?
He’s able to work on the road. He’s in insurance, so he can pretty much do everything via phone and email. It really helps out a lot that he can travel with me. We had talked about it at the beginning. It would have been really tough getting married and then “see you later, I’m on the road for nine months,” so it’s been great that he’s been able to do everything on the road.