Bethanie Mattek-Sands was in tears, Jamie Murray was grinning from ear to ear and Judy Murray was being serenaded by the centre-court crowd – it was an emotional end to the US Open mixed doubles final.
Murray and Mattek-Sands had just won the title, beating Alicja Rosolska of Poland and Nikola Mektic of Croatia 2-6, 6-3, 11-9. It was Murray’s fourth mixed doubles grand slam title (and his sixth grand slam title overall) and the third for Mattek-Sands, bringing her grand slam doubles tally to eight overall. Yet for all their previous successes, this one moment meant the world to Mattek-Sands; this was truly special.
A year ago, she was on crutches, her knee in a huge cast following surgery to put the joint back together. Just weeks before at Wimbledon, she had slipped and fallen in her second-round singles match and dislocated her knee so badly that neither she nor anyone else could bear to look at the damage. Now, 14 months later, she was a grand slam champion.
“I’ve had an amazing team supporting me all the way through,” she said. “Going from not being able to get myself out of bed last year to playing this final. I don’t care what anyone tells you: you’re too old, you’re too young; you’re too big or you’re too small; you haven’t had enough opportunities or you’re still waiting for yours – you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
“Go out there and choose your attitude. Choose happiness every day, no matter what, and big things will happen.”
But then, in the very next breath, she added: “That’s as serious as I’m going to get.” Mattek-Sands does not do maudlin. Always positive, always smiling even through the months of painful rehab, it was her upbeat attitude that got her back on court. And it was that, coupled with Murray’s calming influence and leadership, that got her to the title despite being comprehensively outplayed in the opening set.
Murray was very much the boss of the partnership, even offering coaching tips mid-rally. At one point, as Mattek-Sands went to thump a forehand, he yelled at her: “take your time!” She did as she was told and she won the point.
“We’ve had an amazing two weeks,” Murray said. “We’ve played a lot of great tennis. Today things were going against us but we fought really hard to try to get back into the match.”
It was not that Murray and Mattek-Sands did much wrong in the first set, it was just that Rosolska and Mektic could do no wrong. Rosolska was a little nervous at the start so her partner won every point for her. But then, after a couple of games, she settled down and from that point, she barely missed a ball.
Mattek-Sands was not able to hold serve until the second set but by the time she finally did, she and Murray were playing that little bit better while Rosolska and Mektic’s level had dropped just a fraction. As Murray gave his instructions and Mattek-Sands followed them to the letter, they made the second set their own and headed for the match tiebreak.
But even then, they found themselves 4-1 down within a couple of minutes and had to fight and scrap for every point. But scrap they did until finally, on their fourth match point, they got their hands on the trophy. Mattek-Sands jumped up and down like an over-excited kid at Christmas, eventually jumping into Murray’s arms. And then she started to weep. This was, indeed, like all her Christmases coming at once.
But Murray had one last surprise up his sleeve. “I’ve just got to say a quick happy birthday to my mum,” he told the crowd. “It’s her 75th birthday – no I’m kidding…”
And with that, he led the crowd in a swift chorus of Happy Birthday while Judy took photos from the courtside. It really was a final like no other.