In the mid-2000s, the best thing an up-and-coming athlete could do for their game was to answer the call when veteran Martina Navratilova asked to play doubles. Svetlana Kuznetsova was among the most famous success stories; her 2003 partnership with Navratilova propelled her to Grand Slam glory the following season.
With her more light-hearted exterior, Bethanie Mattek-Sands may not command the same elder-stateswoman gravitas, but like Navratilova, she has unwittingly taken on a similar role for the next generation of American women, partnering Sofia Kenin, Danielle Collins and Jessica Pegula—all of whom improved after a week spent under her tattooed wing.
“I think I have about 4,000 trophies to go before I can even enter Martina’s stratosphere of accomplishments,” Mattek-Sands said earlier this season at Roland Garros, despite amassing 27 doubles titles of her own. “I feel like I’ve been lucky to partner with some talented youngsters. I feel like I have a good connection with all my partners. Having good friendships and good communication always leads to the best results that you’re going to get out there on the court.”
More than anything, Mattek-Sands finds her partnerships “fun”—just like doubles itself.
“I would encourage everyone to play doubles, so you can enjoy it and talk through things with someone out there,” she says. “It’s such a cool game, and I like when I see players inspired, not just professionally but even at lower levels, to go play dubs. Tennis can be a little social!”
Mattek-Sands has translated that sociability into a burgeoning media career, commentating for ESPN and Tennis Channel throughout her time on tour. It took embracing her true self to help unlock her best, on the court and off.
“When I was younger, I was super shy,” she admits. “Maybe I was just unsure of myself and of being around tennis and in this industry. In this individual sport, I maybe didn’t understand exactly how to communicate or foster relation- ships. I think there’s a lot of introverts out there that, given the right confidence and the right conversation, you can be more social and extro- verted. Just look at me now—you can’t stop me from talking!”
The veteran has encountered her share of shy youngsters on the doubles court, introverts like Kenin who went on to win the 2020 Australian Open. Mattek-Sands nicknamed her “Peter.”
“I was taught to be serious, and that, in order to win, you’ve got to be serious,” Mattek-Sands says. “I’ll be real: once I started enjoying myself and accepting my personality, that’s when my results got better.”
Whether it’s doubles partners or viewers at home, Mattek-Sands has made helping others uncover their passion for the sport she loves a life mission.
“I like for the fans to feel connected with the players,” she says. “I know a lot of them from this side of things, but not every player is as outgoing as I am. They all have unique personalities and things to offer the tennis world. That doesn’t always get talked about, so whenever I do press, I like to talk about that because I love tennis.
“Tennis has given me so much, and it’s part of my personality.”