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No.1 Corner: Mattek-Sands On Her Rise To The Top Of Women's Doubles In Brisbane

WTA Insider | In her first interview since becoming World No.1, Bethanie Mattek-Sands banters about her competitive instincts, desire to enjoy the moment, and balancing three disciplines at the Australian Open.

Published January 07, 2017 12:15

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BRISBANE, Australia - It's been a long journey for Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who starts off her 2017 season at the summit of the WTA doubles rankings. The American ended partner Sania Mirza's 91 straight weeks at No.1 by winning the Brisbane International. To make the moment all the more full circle for Mattek-Sands, she had to defeat Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, the team who defeated her and Lucie Safarova - thus preventing her from becoming Year-End No.1 - in the championship match at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global last fall.

None of that seemed to matter for a 31-year-old determined to stay in what is undoubtedly a very rosy present. WTA Insider caught up with Mattek-Sands for a rollicking chat - one that includes a cameo from husband Justin Sands - all about her fiercely competitive nature, what she's learned from a career of ups and downs in singles and doubles, and how she plans to continue enjoying the moment as she prepares to play all three disciplines at the upcoming Australian Open.

WTA Insider: I very rarely see you speechless.
Mattek-Sands: [laughs]. I normally talk a lot, I know! I always have something witty to say. You know what was funny about that was, while Sania was doing her speech - before I started talking, or not talking - she told me, 'I felt like I was handing over some kind of Miss World crown,' and I said, 'That's actually how it felt.' 

I wanted to win this event. Sania and I had won it in 2013 - I saw it on the trophy today! - and when you walk down the wall of fame, you see your picture there too. But it feels amazing. Being No.1 is something you think of when you're a little kid. When you finally get there, it takes a little bit to sink in. It's very special, but at the same time, it goes on; I'm not ending right now, and this is the first week of the season! I get a couple days off and then I'm playing in Melbourne. We're out there because we love playing tennis and we're all competitors.

I'm playing next to champions every day; I played Vesnina and Makarova at the WTA Finals and had a chance to be No.1 there. That was in the back of my head a little bit, but I go out there because I love to play tennis and to compete. It's how I've always been, whether it was a game of Monolpoly or Candy Land. My sister used to let me win because she'd say, 'It was worse for me when I won, so we can still be friends.'

WTA Insider: That's the thing with champions, though; it's not always the love of winning so much as it is the hate to lose.
Mattek-Sands: It's something I worked on because to be a great champion, you have to learn how to lose, as well. It's one of the things I've improved over the years; I remember five years ago, you couldn't talk to me for a couple of days after a loss, because I'd just be so upset about it. It's not that I love losing now, but I've learned to take things from losses, and not just get down on myself. That helped me to become No.1. I won't lie; there's still things - even with my husband! - that I just want to win. Before we got married, we did a tally of all the sports that I would win: basketball, anything with a racquet, so ping pong, badminton, squash, baseball…

Justin Sands, Mattek-Sands' husband: Easy, there.

Mattek-Sands: But Justin's a lot bigger than me, so there are other sports he'd definitely win.

WTA Insider: Do you compete a lot?
Justin Sands: If she gets into bed and the lights are still on, we have to play Roshambo to see who has to get up and turn the lights off.

Mattek-Sands: But who's the Roshambo champion? I've never turned off a light! But we're competitors.

WTA Insider: Talk about your evolution as a player, and focus more on doubles.
Mattek-Sands: There was a year or two where I wasn't playing doubles at all, and that was more so because I couldn't do both and had to decide for my health. Obviously I'm still playing singles, going out to Melbourne to play qualifying. But it's a lot, and I feel my training for singles helped me for doubles.

I don't practice a ton of doubles with Lucie; with most of my partners, we're really good friends, and have good communication on and off the court. I think that makes up for actual practice hours. Keeping my singles game up will always help my doubles; you're moving more, you're playing more points.

But I still love both; I'm planning to play all three events at the Australian Open, mixed doubles with Mike Bryan. You're pretty busy at the Slams when you play all three events. But this is the reason I train, to give myself the chance to win these big events. I'm all in!

WTA Insider: You're wearing a t-shirt that says I Am The Hero Of This Story. Talk about your last 12 months.
Mattek-Sands: I'm enjoying the moment more. We get so caught up in thinking of the future, or second-guessing the past. That takes away from enjoying the moment and doing your best. I read a quote that said, 'The best way to have a great future is to have a great present.' I've learned to dive into staying present and that's helped me come back in matches I was down in.

At the US Open final, Lucie and I were pretty much out, a game away from losing. We fought back there, and the last 12 months was the most tennis I've ever played. At 31, that's cool to think that's the most matches and traveling I've ever had.

I feel like I'm a fine wine, or an Anejo tequila.

WTA Insider: You've been a leader for a while with your work on the Player Council, but do you think of that aspect of being No.1?
Mattek-Sands: I have to be a responsible adult? Oh, OK, simmer down, Bethanie.

But seriously, I take the responsibility fully because I love coming off the court and seeing I've been an inspiration. I read Twitter and Facebook comments; when I hear someone's been inspired by my comebacks or work ethic, or even just being 31 and coming back from hip surgery. It's cool to know I've inspired others to do things in their lives.

We're put in the limelight as players, and it's important to keep your personality. I've never tried to be someone I'm not, and I realize I have the ability to inspire, not just the younger generation, but also your peers. At the end of the day, life is a lot bigger than a couple of tennis matches.

Hear more from Mattek-Sands in the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast:

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