Last year at this time Bethanie Mattek-Sands was hobbling around the National Tennis Center after suffering a horrific injury to her right knee at Wimbledon. She was practicing walking without crutches in the players’ gym. That came after a tough surgery in which there was no guarantee that the world’s No. 1 doubles player could come back.
On Saturday, Mattek-Sands and Jamie Murray won the U.S. Open mixed doubles title, the sixth Grand Slam doubles title of her career.
Mattek-Sands was playing singles on July 6, 2017 when she approached the net to deal with Cristea Sorana’s shot. Her right knee buckled, rupturing her patellar tendon. Her kneecap went up her leg. She screamed in agony, Sorana immediately went to comfort her and her husband Justin raced onto the court. It was a gruesome scene.
What a contrast to Saturday, with a stirring come-from-behind victory over Alicja Rosolska and Nicola Metic 2-6, 6-3, (11-9) at Ashe Stadium.
“My husband told me there's no way he thought I could be back here,” said Mattek-Sands as she sat with the trophy bowl in front of her. “When I went down at Wimbledon, I remember asking after a few F-bombs, I remember asking Justin if I was going to be able to walk off the court. He's like, no, babe, you're not going to be able to.”
Her comeback started in March with minor results but she made the quarterfinals of the women’s doubles at Wimbledon with long-time partner Lucie Safarova with whom she had won five Grand Slam titles.
“I didn't think about winning a title months ago,” said Mattek-Sands. “I was too far away from that. My win had to be bending my knee from 90 degrees to 95. That had to be good enough. If I thought about holding a U.S. Open trophy last year, I would have been discouraged.”
Just like the game itself, she took her recovery a point at a time.
“That's how we got here: it's match by match, point by point,” she said. “It's how I've gotten here, is taking those little wins every day from last year at Wimbledon and really choosing my attitude. I really had to look at myself in the mirror and decide how I wanted to wake up every day despite my circumstances not being how I envisioned them. I think I just kept that philosophy throughout my rehab, throughout my comeback. [And] here I am sitting next to Jamie holding the trophy.”
In a sort of cruel coincidence, her husband blew out his knee on a hunting trip in January and now they have matching scars. They went through rehab together and he is still in the process. “It’s a step by step thing,’ he said on Saturday after his wife had made the ultimate step.