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Finally healthy, Mattek-Sands is back on track and on the rise

May 25, 2013 01:38 PM
At the French Open tune-up in Stuttgart, Germany, Mattek-Sands reached the singles semifinals and the doubles final.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
PARIS – Bethanie Mattek-Sands never doubted that she would be able to return to top form. But last year, when she couldn’t seem to get healthy and went into a prolonged slump, the former world No. 32 was a bit beside herself.
"It wasn't a never-get-back thing, I was just really frustrated with my injuries and fatigue issues," she told USTA com. "I was falling asleep walking upstairs and my legs were really shot. I was more frustrated and tried so many different things – working out, taking breaks, massages or recovery, and I wasn't figuring it out. That was beyond frustrating."
The 28-year-old Mattek-Sands – who opens her Roland Garros campaign against Spain’s Lourdes Dominguez-Lino – had a very rough stretch last spring and fall, going 1-8 on the WTA level from Indian Wells through the US Open. She wasn't even able to make an impact at the Challenger level.
Even though she thought she was doing everything she needed to do, she was exhausted after three-setters, saying she felt like a truck hit her. Then at Cincinnati in August while playing doubles with her close friend Sania Mirza, something very unusual occurred.
"We won the first set easy and I sat down at the changeover and actually felt myself start to fall asleep," Mattek-Sands said. "And that's when I really got worried because I usually could get my adrenaline going."
She was also experiencing short-term memory loss and admitted she was being short with her husband, Justin, an easy-going and supportive person who travels with her year-round.
In the fall, she discovered that she a mineral deficiency, as well as Candida, which is an overgrowth of yeast in the body. Perhaps most importantly, she discovered she had a variety of food allergies, many of them vegetables and fruits, as well as cheese and number of things that include gluten. 
Her new diet allows her to eat meat and fish as well as rice, and she is now able to stomach more calories without feeling overly full. She feels a heck of a lot better – and it shows.
"When I started feeling a difference, I was like ‘Oh my God this is great,’" said Mattek-Sands. 
She entered her last WTA event in Linz last fall ranked outside of the Top 200 and was able to qualify and win six matches. Still, she came into the year ranked outside the Top 170 but was much more confident, although realistic.
"At the end of the year last year, I was just hoping to get into the qualies and now I am getting into main draws," she said with a smile.
Her 2013 hasn't been perfect,. but it’s been quite good. She has knocked more than 100 spots off her ranking and comes in into Roland Garros ranked No. 66. She had to play qualifying at five straight events at the beginning of the year, but then got straight into Kuala Lumpur and reached the final. 
But even though she was brought up on hard courts, her biggest impact has been on the clay. In Stuttgart, she qualified and took down former US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer, 2012 Roland Garros finalist Sara Errani and Wimbledon quarterfinalist Sabine Lisicki to reach the semis. She and Mirza also reached the doubles final.
Then she went right to Madrid and took out Andrea Petkovic and Madison Keys before falling to Ana Ivanovic. 
"I’m confident in my game now and every week I’ve been improving," she said, "and that goes back to building momentum which I haven’t had in a couple of years." 
There has been a lot of talk about the extremely talented group of young U.S. women this year, but the veterans haven’t been too bad either. Serena Williams, 31, is ranked No. 1; Varvara Lepchenko, 26, stands at No. 29; Venus Williams, 32, is ranked No. 30; and Mattek-Sands is at No. 66 and has put up better results than any American outside Serena since April.
She believes that she’s even better than she was two years, when she reached a career high No. 30 and was seeded at Wimbledon.
"I have more confidence in my strokes, a better idea of the game and strategy and I’m playing with a more organized aggression," said Mattek-Sands, always an attacking player. "I’m hitting the ball better, reading the court and covering it well. Having my legs to get power is big and I’ve been able to play good defense to offense. I wasn't always able to do footwork drills the past year and half and that helps a lot."
Even though Mattek-Sands has played a heavy schedule, she will continue to play doubles with Mirza. But she has decided not to play mixed doubles at the French Open with Horia Tecau unless she loses early in singles, even though they've have success together. 
Like John McEnroe, Mattek-Sands prefers playing doubles to practicing as she likes to be in match mode. But that doesn't mean that she won’t put in intense sessions on the practice court, like she Tuesday at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy just outside of Paris, when she drilled with his most famous student, Serena. 
Both are hoping to still be around Paris when the second week of the tournament rolls around.
"She was ripping the ball and she’s feeling good," Mattek-Sands said. "She said, ‘I’ll hit ground strokes all day so just tell me what you want to do.’ So I said, ‘You can crack some to me at net ’cause I’m ready.’ We had a few rallies where felt was coming off the ball and I’m just blocking them back. It was a great practice."
To learn more about up-and-coming U.S. players and to receive the latest US Open news and information, as well as exclusive merchandise offers to the US Open Shop, sign up to become a US Open Insider.
And for more Pro Tennis coverage, including coverage of Americans at the 2013 French Open, go to the USTA.com Pro Tennis page.


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