It was right around 10am MDT, and I had the Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Sorana Cirstea match on my second screen, watching it in between points on whatever I had on the main screen. I glanced down to see Cirstea, looking deeply concerned, step over the net onto Mattek-Sands' side of the court. "Oh no," I thought. "She's not injured?" Mattek-Sands lay on the court, clutching her right knee. I heard screams, and thought at first it was Cirstea in a panic. Had Mattek-Sands suffered some freak, horrific compound fracture? But it wasn't Cirstea screaming. It was Bethanie Mattek-Sands screaming out again and again and again, "Help me!"
My heart broke for her.
They showed replays of the point. She had advanced to net, split-stepped, and then crumpled. She fell to the ground, clutching that knee. She screamed and screamed and screamed. The TV cameras showed people in the stands covering their mouths in horror. Her husband scrambled from the player's box to the court to comfort her as best he could. Medical staff seemed terribly slow to arrive. She lay on the court for a long, long time. Her doubles partner, Lucie Safarova, showed up in tears. Safarova hugged members of Mattek-Sands' family. Finally they stretchered Bethanie away.
As I write this, Friday afternoon my time and late Friday evening in London, there are no further reports on the injury. A report on the WTA website says only that she suffered an acute knee injury, and that she's been to the hospital for scans. The level of pain did not seem consistent with what I've witnessed of knee ligament damage. A commentator on Twitter suggested that it could be a patellar tendon rupture, and that, if so, her career is likely over.
It is hard to overstate just how cruelly, tragically unfair this injury is. Team Bucie, as Mattek-Sands and Safarova call themselves, had won the last three Grand Slam titles in women's doubles and were the heavy favorites to win Wimbledon--completing the Team Bucie Slam--and looked good for a run at the U.S. Open, and thus the calendar Slam, as well.
Bethanie--I'm mostly going to call her Bethanie from now on, because I care about her in the stupid, misguided way that fans care, where we think we know someone because we've invited their image into our living rooms--has been one of my favorite players since I first saw her play, back in the 3rd round of singles at the 2015 U.S. Open, when she played Serena Williams. I had just that summer began to find my way into an obsession with tennis, and so most of the players were still new to me, and I'd never heard of Bethanie Mattek-Sands, but I liked her right away. She had flair, something immediately evident in her appearance--the tattoos, the wild clothes (that day, a red spaghetti-strap tank loosely over a red jog-bra, and black knee socks) the orange highlights in her hair--as well as her play. She came out serving-and-volleying, and she took the first set from Serena, and I wondered why I'd never heard of her before. She was so much fun to watch.
And she has continued to be fun to watch. Her singles results were inconsistent, to say the least, and I never could quite figure out what kept her from more success on the singles court. But whatever it was, she played with an aggressive swagger that has kept me watching ever since. (I rarely was able to watch her play doubles. Doubles doesn't get televised very frequently, and when it is, it's not heavily promoted.)
So something else we have lost with her injury: a player of charisma, someone who steps outside the bounds of what reads as "normal" for a professional tennis player, in terms of appearance, attitude, and style of play.
I'll say again: it breaks my heart.
Will she ever play again? I'm sure no one yet know. With an injury as severe as this one appears to be, you figure, best case, a year of rehab to play again and another year to return to top form. Bethanie is 32 right now. She'll be 34 by then. At what point does the cost simply become too high, the struggle too great?
Even if she never plays again, her story hasn't by any means ended. I find myself turning questions over in my mind, worrying on her behalf. Who will she be now? What will her life look like? The sport that has given so much to her over the course of her life has certainly taken from her as well. She must right now be feeling great uncertainty and great fear. You don't become half of the top-ranked women's doubles team without being one hell of a fighter, and surely she will fight as she moves forward in her life, whatever comes, but right now I imagine she must be wondering what exactly she's going to be fighting for.
There are no easy morals to this, no simple feel-good sentiments to express. A terrible thing happened. All of us who love the sport lost something in that moment, but it is nothing compared to what she lost. By what she lost, I don't mean simply or even mostly the wave of competitive success she'd been riding on. I imagine it has been far, far more terrible is to have lost the innocence that things are pretty much okay. I touch empathically on how she must have felt lying on that court screaming while hundreds of people looked on helplessly, and I skitter away from the feeling. It is far easier to contemplate my heartbreak as a fan than to allow myself to begin to feel what she was feeling.
Maybe it is trite to say that I send her love, but I don't know what else to do.
All love to you, Bethanie Mattek-Sands. It has been an honor and a pleasure to get to watch you play.