Bethanie Mattek-Sands is not sure: hat or socks. What will she have Jamie Murray wear for their mixed doubles final tomorrow?
The 33-year-old American has never been one to hide her light under a bushel and even if the casual tennis fan could not put a name to her face, they would still recognise her with her dyed hair, trademark knee-length socks and her unique outfits. Mattek-Sands stands out in a crowd.
At the start of her journey through the draw with Murray, she threw out her customary challenge to her partner (she does it to everyone she plays with): if they get to the final, he will have to wear knee-socks in the final, too. Murray, who favours sensible, manly, black ankle socks has been keeping very quiet about this for the past ten days in the hope that Mattek-Sands might forget about it. Alas, no. And now she wants him to try one of her hats (floral or leaf design – she has both).
Yet if the crowd may not be fully aware of Mattek-Sands and her pedigree, everyone in the locker room is. She has five women’s doubles grand slam titles to her name, another two in mixed doubles and she is the current mixed doubles Olympic champion. Until last summer, she was the world No 1 women’s doubles player but then, playing at Wimbledon in singles, she slipped, fell and dislocated her knee.
The injury was horrific and left her on crutches for months – already into her 30s, it could have been the end of her career. But Mattek-Sands is nothing if not positive and never once did she think that she would not be back. Hobbling around the US Open last year with her hair dyed bright pink, she was in the thick of things working for television. She was not going to miss a grand slam just because she could not walk properly.
“I knew I didn’t want my last tournament to be that Wimbledon last year,” she said. “I was very determined to come back, and not just come back but to be competitive and put myself in winning positions. For me it’s been a week-to-week process. Obviously I would have loved to come up with a title right when I came back [in March] but it’s been a really good progression.
“Every week I’ve gotten better, every week I feel like I’ve moved better, my reactions have been better. It was little things here and there that had to be improved week to week. Here I am a year later – last year I was crutching around and now I’m giving myself a chance at a title.”
Mixed doubles is a lottery. It is only played at the grand slam events so the pairings are random and hastily cobbled together (Mattek-Sands thinks a Tinder app for mixed doubles might help) and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. But with two of the best doubles players in the world joining forces, the omens were always looking good for the Scots-American partnership.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing with Beth,” Murray said. “She’s a great player and she’s fearless. She puts herself out there. She’s not scared of the ball and she moves so well up at the net. She knows where to be. For me, I’m not stressed about having to cover ground or be here or be there because she’s in the right spots and then it’s easier for me to be in the right spots as well.”
Mattek-Sands clearly agrees. While Murray always says that Bruno Soares is the calming influence in their doubles partnership, Mattek-Sands has relied on the Scot to keep her relaxed when the pressure is on. “I feel like I’m very energetic and Jamie is very calming,” she said. “He takes his time. But I think out games really match up well. Obviously our strength is at the net – we set each other up well. we’ve both had great double results so we see the court well and I think it’s just a matter of setting the other one up at net for that put-away shot.”
Tomorrow they will try to put away Nikola Mektic from Croatia, who stands at a career high No 18 in the doubles rankings, and Alicja Rosolska from Poland, the world No 31. And Mattek-Sands will be trying to get Murray to wear one of her floral hats.
“Could I rock the hat?” he asked, cautiously. Oh yes, Mattek-Sands believes Murray can rock the hat. And if he can rock the hat, they might just rock the final.