By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – American Bethanie Mattek-Sands bowed out in the second round of the French Open on Thursday, beaten by Germany’s former world number nine Andrea Petkovic.
Nothing too remarkable about that it would seem, except the last time Mattek-Sands saw her hopes ended at a Grand Slam it appeared her career had been cut short too.
It is approaching a year since the 33-year-old fell awkwardly at Wimbledon, ruptured a tendon in her right knee and dislocated her kneecap. Her screams echoed around the grounds.
Career-saving surgery took place in New York five days later and all the gruelling months of rehabilition were rewarded this week when she returned to the Grand Slam arena and posted a first-round victory over Sweden’s Johanna Larsson.
“The beginning was the most difficult,” Mattek-Sands told Reuters as she reflected on her journey back. “The worst thing was I had to keep my leg straight for six weeks
“I really couldn’t do anything. I needed help getting in and out of bed, getting into the shower, going to the bathroom. It wasn’t just not being able to play tennis, it was not being able to live my life the way I was used to.
“Going from being a professional athlete to that was a huge contrast.”
So it was easier than usual for her to shake off Thursday’s 6-0 7-6(5) defeat by world number 107 Petkovic.
“She was the better player today but I have a lot of things to take with me from this tournament,” said Mattek-Sands, who returned in March but had not claimed a Tour-level victory before arriving in Paris on a protected ranking.
“It just feels awesome to be back, I love the big events. I’m happy to be competing again.”
While she is still focussing on the doubles in Paris with partner Latisha Chan, thoughts will evitably move towards an imminent return to Wimbledon.
“I haven’t thought about it a bunch because I’ve been focussed on claycourt tennis,” she said. “I’m not sure what the grass will bring and I haven’t decided where I’ll play.
“But physically I feel good. It’s recovering good day to day. It gets stiff but overall I’m happy with the trend.
“The knee won’t probably ever be the same as my left one but I do the best I can each day and if it’s sore or stiff I talk to my team and trainers and therapists and they do a a great job.”
While off the Tour and when not in the gym, former world number 30 Mattek-Sands kept herself busy with her passion for fashion and design — turning her hand to home renovation.
“I did some TV at the U.S. Open for ESPN which I enjoyed but we are renovating a house and I’ve really got into that, into the interior design,” said the American whose on-court looks have included knee-length socks, face paint and jackets decorated with white tennis balls.
“Fashion wise I like being creative so I took all my colourful ideas that I wear and brought them to the house. That’s an ongoing project. I just enjoyed friends and family and being with my dog too.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)