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Bethanie Mattek-Sands on the rise with new diet, studious preparation

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Bethanie Mattek-Sands

Bethanie Mattek-Sands has raised her ranking from No. 173 to No. 68 this year. (Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images)

She has bucked tradition at Wimbledon by wearing a Lady Gaga-inspired warmup jacket and player-party gown made of tennis balls. She has donned a cowboy hat at the U.S. Open. She is partial to knee-high socks and eye black, and she keeps everyone guessing about her hair color (as of this writing, it was a hazy shade of blue and purple).

Bethanie Mattek-Sands has never shied away from attention. But the 28-year-old Minnesota native who turned pro at 14 has been little more than a novelty act to casual fans, who unleash their inner Joan Rivers and critique her sartorial hits and misses. Then they move along to see the contenders play.

GALLERY: Mattek-Sands’ style through the years

Times — if not her bold fashion statements — are changing.

Right now, Mattek-Sands is playing like the second-best American on the WTA Tour, behind world No. 1 Serena Williams. Mattek-Sands has revived her career after failing to win a main-draw match in her first five tournaments of the year. She made the final of the Malaysian Open, demolished Sloane Stephens (the slumping 20-year-old who is the U.S. No. 2 based on the rankings) at the Family Circle Cup and upset 2012 French Open finalist Sara Errani on her way to the semifinals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix as a qualifier two weeks ago. After beginning the year ranked No. 173, Mattek-Sands has climbed to No. 68 and earned direct entry into Roland Garros.

Mattek-Sands’ resurgence is rooted in better health. Shoulder, neck and back injuries hampered her after she reached a career-high No. 30 in 2011, and last fall she skipped the Asian tournaments because of fatigue, a long-standing issue. A blood test revealed more than 20 food allergies, including gluten and dairy. Since modifying her diet to avoid those triggers, Mattek-Sands has felt like a new woman.

“It always seemed like my body was fighting something. I was always sick a lot,” Mattek-Sands told SI.com by phone this week. “Since avoiding everything that I’m allergic to, my sniffles went away. My skin cleared up, my eyes got whiter, I lost some weight. I’m actually eating more now, which is interesting. Before, when you’re eating salad and tomatoes and avocados, you don’t think much of it because they’re healthy foods. But obviously it was disagreeing with me and since I made the adjustments, I can actually eat more foods. That was an issue because I wasn’t getting enough calories after workouts. After two- or three-hour matches, you have to refuel and I could never eat enough.

“I’m just happy I found something that helped me.”

Mattek-Sands talks Aaron Rodgers, her favorite hair color and more

Mattek-Sands’ newfound recovery ability has been a cornerstone of her rise. In the first round of the Family Circle Cup, she outlasted Anastasia Rodionova 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3) in three hours and 42 minutes, the longest match on tour this year. A day later, she dominated Stephens 6-2, 6-0. At her next tournament, the Porsche event in Stuttgart, Germany, Mattek-Sands played six singles matches and five doubles matches in seven days.

“For me to be able to play 11 matches in Stuttgart? No chance I would have been able to do that” before the diet, she said. “I think I’ve done that maybe twice in my career, and I had to take a couple of weeks off afterward. This year I’m feeling really healthy and fit, and that’s a huge part of my success.”

Bethanie Mattek-Sands

Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been a finalist and semifinalist this year. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Her meals consist of a lot of protein and gluten-free pasta. She carries energy bars and snacks with her at all times, knowing that there might not be an allergy-free option at every corner. Fortunately, though, the tour is a much kinder place these days for selective eaters, thanks to the growing popularity of the gluten-free diet among players.

“If I had this allergy a few years ago, it would have been way tougher,” she said. “Things like having gluten-free pasta on site help.”

Mattek-Sands also credits her turnaround to an improved commitment to the mental side of the game. She now spends more time scouting opponents and herself, watching YouTube highlights of her matches to see which shots are working. Late last season, she began writing in a journal after every practice and match to keep track of what she worked on and where she improved. Those logs have allowed her to remain positive and maintain a proper perspective when things get tough.

“Sometimes you feel like you’ve working on things for years and you think, Why haven’t I got over this yet?” she said. “Writing it down lets you see your own progress because it’s right in front of you.”

She added: “Everyone talks about the game being 90 percent mental now. But does everyone spend 90 percent of their time on the mental side? No, not really. Everyone is on the court working on skills. So I tried to work more on the mental side. My goal at the start of the year was to be the mentally strongest player on tour. I think that’s a goal I can reach.”

Her journal experiment came full circle when she scored the biggest win of her season, beating No. 7 Errani on red clay in Stuttgart.

“I lost to her at New Haven last year and it was one of the first matches that I started journaling,” Mattek-Sands said. “I remember being really upset and the objective was to write down the things I did well in that match. So it was funny that that’s where it started and a few months later I got a win over her.”

Mattek-Sands plans to take a much-needed respite before the French Open (she lost a three-set, first-round match to Ana Ivanovic at this week’s Madrid Open). She pulled out of next week’s Italian Open in singles and will only play doubles with Sania Mirza.

“I feel like I need a little recovery time,” she said. “I’ve been on a pretty good run here without a lot of days off.”

  • Published On May 09, 2013
  • 6 comments
    dami1
    dami1

    Thanks very much for these interesting interview and gallery !

    Talking about outfits, I personnaly liked the 2010 Wimbledon jacket, the straw hat, and think the world cup theme in 2006 at Wimbledon (minus the sponsors) was really great! 

    For the rest, well, I'll prefer not to elaborate.. :P Wish her the best for the future, an outspoken personnality with a great fighting spirit and maybe, who knows, a tendancy to choose her outfits without or.. against everybody else's opinion! :D

     

    BethannbillyWintour
    BethannbillyWintour

    Love Bethanie!  She seems so positive and well-rounded.  She's one of the few who really looks like she's having FUN out there- a real joy to watch :)

    opaque
    opaque

     @BethannbillyWintour

     Mattek-Sands is definitely positive, bubbly and quirky (well-rounded might be something of a stretch all things considered, but she's appareantly working on it).  Her newfound committment to her craft is commendable and nice to see given that American tennis hardly exists in any real way at the professional level beyond Serena Williams and perhaps the Brothers Bryan (don't be sour, facts are facts), but the problem with it is that she's 28-years-old now and if she wanted to fulfill her potential on the WTA tour she probably should have been embracing some of these things five or six years ago.