Phoenician and Olympic gold medalist Bethanie Mattek-Sands stands at a lean 5 feet 6 inches, but her exuberant demeanor and colorful getups make her seem grander. With flower tattoos snaking up her right arm and blonde hair highlighted with Crayola hues, she doesn’t fit the typical image of a professional tennis player. And yet she’s the best women’s doubles tennis player in the world – at least until last summer. On the grass courts of Wimbledon, she suffered a gruesome, cringe-inducing fall that led to a ruptured patellar tendon and dislocated kneecap. At the time of the incident, it looked unlikely that Mattek-Sands would ever play tennis again. Unable to walk, she made the most of her intense recovery process by hosting a mock talk show on social media, In Bed with Bethanie. She later dipped her toes into broadcasting, serving as a TV commentator for Tennis Channel and ESPN. Now, at 32, she thinks she’s ready to make a comeback on the court. We caught up with Mattek-Sands at a practice in March, less than a week before her first tournament back from one of the scariest injuries pro tennis has ever seen.
How’s your recovery going? Are you close to 100 percent yet?
I am. I’ll say I’m at 100 percent right now. I’m competing in Miami next week, and I told myself that I wasn’t gonna get out on the court and compete until I thought I was ready to win some matches.
Do you have any expectations for winning, or are you just happy to be playing?
Definitely. Coming back, I didn’t wanna just say, “Oh I made it back.” I wanted to come back and make an impact. I feel like I’m there. I love competition; I like puttin’ it all out there. Every time I walk on the court, I believe I can win the match.
So many tennis players settle in California and Florida. Why did you choose Phoenix?
I have an amazing husband [Justin] that lived here before I met him. And my trainers – I have a great team out here in Scottsdale. There’s a lot of athletes other than tennis players out here. I’m surprised tennis isn’t more prevalent. You’re right, you have a lot of the girls training in Florida and California, but I really think Phoenix/Scottsdale is a sports mecca. There’s a lot of training facilities here. You can get some good body work, massage, you name it. It’s all out here.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Phoenix?
My favorite one right now is Chelsea’s Kitchen. But there’s another one called Razz’s that’s amazing. If you sit at the chef’s table and have Razz cook for you, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Have you thought about what it’ll be like going back to Wimbledon?
I have a little bit. I maybe pushed it out of my mind for a minute, just because I’m not there yet. I’m very much staying in the present moment. I think I’m gonna have to reframe how I feel about Wimbledon, and how I feel about playing on grass. That’s something that I’m going to gradually get into. I think first things first: Get out there. Play a match. Get some competitions in. And then I’ll see about Wimbledon.
Your broadcast work has been well-received. Would you consider doing that after retiring?
Definitely. I really enjoyed my time in front of the camera. I definitely wanna mix that in, even while I’m playing. Obviously my matches are going to be my priority during the season, but broadcasting, [being a] TV analyst, TV personality, that’s something on my radar for sure.