The U.S. Open's most emphatic fashion statement will be made Friday night when Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Serena Williams walk the Arthur Ashe Stadium runway.
Suspend your tennis senses for a bit and forget that Williams is going for a calendar year Grand Slam. Forget that she's the No. 1 player in the world and that Mattek-Sands is exactly 100 spots behind her at 101. Forget that this is a third-round match in the last major of the year.
This will be a show.
Venus and Serena Williams have been making tennis and fashion statements at the Open since the late Nineties. Their championship pedigree is undeniable; their fashion sense has occasionally raised eyebrows but always drawn attention.
Those eyebrows have never arched quite so much as when Mattek-Sands walks on a court. She has made her own extravagant fashion statements for years with colorful and oddly constructed dresses, knee socks, kaleidoscopic hair dyes, chandelier earrings, tattoos, even a cowboy hat she wore at the 2005 Open. Think Betsey Johnson or Lady Gaga in tennis shoes.
Playing in her 14th U.S. Open, Mattek-Sands most clearly wants to make a tennis statement Friday night. After first making the main draw in 2001, the 30-year-old native Minnesotan has never before made it to the third round. Her career -- she has never won a WTA tournament -- has been severely impacted by injuries, including a second hip surgery last year. Being out half a season to recuperate may have also allowed her other injuries to heal and given her time to get her head in order.
"I think this is the best I've ever physically felt, mentally," she said after beating Coco Vandeweghe on Wednesday. "All the parts are really coming together. I think the time off last year really helped me appreciate being on the court . . . I'm a competitor. I'm a gamer. Being away from the game last year was tough for me, so I'm really appreciating every moment I have out there."
Someone who appreciates what Mattek-Sands has gone through is her opponent Friday night.
"Because we've both been through things," Williams said. "She's had a lot of ups and downs in her career. I have, too. It's cool to see another person, another woman, be so strong and continue to come back, continue to do really well, to look anyone in their face and play the best that she can."
The gregarious and vivacious Mattek-Sands is widely respected for the upbeat attitude she brings to everything she does. "She's just incredibly positive," Williams said. "It's so inspiring for someone like me. So I love that about her . . . I don't think there's anyone on tour that says I don't like Bethanie Mattek. I don't think that exists."
And Williams is cool with Mattek-Sands' fashion choices. "I love her personality," Williams said. "It really shows in her dresses and the clothes and the outfits."
Against Vandeweghe, Mattek-Sands had her hair dyed orange and described her tennis dress as "coral/electric melon."
"A player in the locker room asked me if I purposely match my hair to my outfit, which I didn't," she said. "I almost didn't wear the outfit because . . . maybe it's too much orange. But orange is probably one of my favorite colors."
As for Friday night's fashion statement, she said, "I always have special outfits, I feel like. I'll have to see what I got packed in my bag."
More than anything she would like to make the strongest tennis statement of her life. Her big wins are in doubles and paired with Lucie Safarova. They won the Australian and French titles this year. Mattek-Sands has played Williams twice, losing both matches.
In her effusive way, Mattek-Sands described Friday night's challenge: "That's obviously going to be a clash there. I'm excited for it."