Busted Racquet - Tennis

Bethanie Mattek-Sands is best known for her high socks and tattooed arms, but the former top-40 player has been playing solid tennis this summer following her Fed Cup heroics in April. The American talked to Busted Racquet about the upcoming Fed Cup final, whether she wants the Williams sisters to play and how she's helping flood relief in Nashville.  

Busted Racquet: You played some impromptu indoor tennis today in New Haven [qualifying rounds were rained out]; how did it go?

Bethanie Mattek-Sands: I woke up this morning and it was raining, and I knew it wasn't looking too good for today. The match was supposed to start at 10 and got pushed back until 11 and I had a five minute warm-up on the court, and that's all I had before the match. I went on around noon, played Vera Dushevina, a Russian girl in the top 50, and beat her straight sets. So today was a good day.

BR: That was a pretty stacked qualifying draw up in New Haven. [Elena Vesnina, Dominika Cibulkova were among the top seeds.]

BMS: It was a very impressive draw if you really look at it; a majority of all these girls are in the main draws of grand slams. I think if you look the highest seed is 41 - Elena Vesnina - that's a pretty tough qualifying draw.

BR: What are your goals for this week and seven days from now when US Open begins?

BMS: Right now New Haven is a pretty good precursor to the US Open. I want to play matches, which I've already done. I've already played three in qualifying. so I'm feeling pretty confident. I've had a lot of good wins throughout the US Open Series, played a lot of qualifiers, a lot of matches, and that's what you want. The biggest thing for me is to keep recovering after all the matches and feel good for the Open.

BR: How good are you feeling physically? You had some injuries last year, how are you keeping up with the grind of playing the qualifiers?

BMS: My injuries have been doing really good. I had hip surgery a year-and-a-half ago, I hurt my back in the middle of last year and had to take some time off but this is the longest I've gone in the season for two years now. My only complaints would be only being stiff and sore from all the matches, but that's a pretty good problem to have.

BR: About a year ago you were best known for the high socks you wore. After your heroic performance at the Fed Cup, you're known as the woman who took down Russia. Can you take us through that day?

BMS: That was a pretty awesome day, I think I've said this before, but that was the highlight of my career so far. Melanie [Oudin] started out in the first singles against Elena Dementieva and unfortunately lost, and basically I was up next and had to win or we lost. I was pretty confident playing later in doubles with Liezel Huber, I was like, if I get through these singles we'll play it off in doubles. I was playing [Ekaterina] Makarova -- who was also top-40 -- and playing well right now. She's a leftie and there was a lot of emotion in that match. I'm generally pretty calm. You'll see me do a couple of "come ons!" and a couple of fist pumps, but this Fed Cup brought the emotion out of me. I was pretty pumped up. I'm still getting goosebumps thinking about it. I pulled it off in three sets, and the emotion of winning that match was unbelievable. My whole family was there; it was such a cool experience. And obviously, me and Liezel were able to capture the win with doubles.

BR: How are you liking your chances against Italy in November? Venus and Serena said they'd play, but with Serena's injury, that looks like it may not happen.

BMS: The Italians have a pretty strong team. [Francesca] Schiavone is coming off the French Open title and [Flavia] Pennetta has been top-20 for a pretty long time. They're both going to be their singles players. I actually played one of the women we think will be on the team -- Roberta Vinci -- last week in qualies. I like our chances. Melanie's a grinder and if the Williamses do play, they're obviously the top Americans and have beaten everybody. Me and Liezel are undefeated in Fed Cup doubles. I'm confident. It's a different surface. We'll be playing on hard rather than clay like last year, and I think we have a great chance. Being at home is a big thing for Fed Cup. All the other tournaments it's not that big a difference, but in that Fed Cup atmosphere playing at home is a big deal.

BR: When Venus and Serena announced they're going to play, what is your first reaction as a Fed Cup teammate? Are you excited because they may give a better chance to beat Italy, or is the competitive fire burning because you want to play more?

BMS: Obviously the competitive person in me wants to play and wants to beat the Italians myself, but you can't really say anything against their record. Serena's No. 1 and Venus is No. 3. That's something I haven't attained in my career. You can't really argue with them. But me, Melanie and Liezel have been the core of this Fed Cup team the past couple years. We made it to the finals last year. Unfortunately, I couldn't play because I was injured, but we did it again this year and that holds a lot. We have a good team with good chemistry. Fed Cup is way different in that than any WTA events and that's what counts.

BR: I see you're trying to challenge my domain in the blog world with your USA Today blog that you write once a week. I feel like I'm stepping on the court with a foe right now, actually. How did that start? What do you enjoy about blogging?

BMS: It was randomly something my PR guy brought up. They said they wanted something different than to just blog about something other than tennis and that we ate pasta for dinner and went to bed early. [Note: There couldn't be a more apt description of what most player-authored blogs are like.] So I said I'm different and I'll do that. It's been really fun. I blog on my website but I'm really bad at procrastinating, so having a deadline has made me more on top of it, which is sort of sad to say. (Laughs.) I've been trying to give all the readers a different look at the WTA Tour and all the players because I think you only see one side of the players most of the time. Even in interviews and stuff like that, everybody's pretty professional. I was hoping to make it a little more fun. That was my whole goal. I have one or two left, through the US Open.

BR: I particularly enjoyed the top shower destinations on tour. That was entertaining. [Bethanie said a lot of showers on tour have a weak flow and lame motion sensors, but that the French Open and Wimbledon have the best.]

BMS: That was my last one! It's stuff like that; nobody else would even say something like that. It's stuff I talk about with my husband or me and the other players joke around, and I guess nobody else would know about that sort of stuff.

BR: It seems to be very reflective of your personality and your fashion. Speaking of that, what's the clothing plan for the Open? Do you have something new in store or a surprise?

BMS: I always have something in my pocket. Honestly, most of the time it's last minute. This time I'm a little more low-key, and a few people have gotten on me about it. I've been with Under Armour this year, and they're really starting to step up their stuff. For the US Open I have nothing planned right now, but that doesn't mean I don't have something to pull out. Literally, if the day before I find something, I'll rock it out on the court.

BR: Before the Kim Clijsters match last week in Montreal, you wore a Montreal Canadiens jersey. A total ruse to get the fans on your side or are you a fan of the Habs?

BMS: I have to say I'm a big fan of hockey; it's actually my favorite sport to watch live. I haven't gone to a game in Montreal but everyone has been raving that I need to do that, so hopefully I can go up there during hockey season and watch a game. The jersey was the idea of a friend up in Montreal who's a big hockey fan, and he's the one got me the jersey. And I was like, "Hey I rock it and love hockey, let's do it." That was pretty much it. We talked about it the day before, and I went out and did it. I don't know if it helped me with the fans because they were pretty much on Kim's side, but it was fun and something different.

BR: After the flooding in Nashville this spring, you publicly became involved in the recovery effort. How did that come about?

BMS: Me and my husband were in Rome when this happened, and it got something inside me wanting to do something. The biggest thing for me is that there are a lot of international crises, but as an American I really wanted to do something in the United States. We're struggling with the economy, and that was in my heart. I haven't been able to get to Nashville yet, but hopefully after the Open I can go down there and help out and do whatever they want me to do. My husband and I talked about it. I donate five percent of my prize money from the French Open all the way to the US Open. I've been playing a lot of tourneys so I don't know what the money mark is, but US Open should be a big payday so that's the goal. [Support the cause here.]

BR: Well, good luck in that, plus in New Haven and Flushing Meadows and especially in November in the Fed Cup.

BMS: Thanks a lot, I appreciate it.

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