Bethanie Mattek-Sands was thrust into the Fed Cup spotlight last weekend when she became the first Team USA member in 14 years to win consecutive live rubbers on the same day and take her team to victory. Mattek-Sands has just qualified for the main draw of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, but she kindly took some time out to answer a few questions:
You were the star of the USA vs. Russia Fed Cup semifinal, and you're getting a lot of attention for winning both live rubbers on the same day. How do you think this feat, performed under such pressure, might affect you in terms of future play, especially in big tournaments?
Well I can honestly tell you that it was one of my bigger moments as a professional player. It is a great feeling knowing that I won my singles and gave our team a chance to get into another final against Italy. It may sound strange, but I like having to perform under pressure as that is when I play some of my best tennis. If you recall last year in the semifinal against Czech, Liezel and I were down a set and 5-1 and I was on my second serve at 40-15. Talk about some pressure!!! We managed to come all the way back and take the match and move team USA into its first final in a few years.
As for my future play...winning matches against tough opponents always gives you a boost of confidence. The only thing I was worried about was taking time off the clay and having to go back to hard court for a week as that transition can sometimes take a few extra days to find your rhythm. The only thing I can do is continue to work hard and get better each day and or week. The really tough part about tennis is you have to keep winning in order to play matches. It is hard to beat anyone out here on the tour let alone do it for at least a week or two straight to allow yourself to go deep into a tournament.
How did you celebrate your big win?
Actually I didn't get back to my room until around 10 p.m. since we had a bunch of press and family to say goodbye to once again. After I got showered up I went down and had some food with the team and we talked about the matches for a few minutes, said our goodbyes and then I went back to my room to pack up since we had to get on the road the next morning. As great as it was, you really don't get much time to enjoy a win since you are always getting ready for your next match. I'm laughing as I am typing this because my husband's response to a big win or a match that I played really well in is "great job, enjoy it for 5 minutes and then start thinking about your next one!"
What, if anything, did you learn from the Fed Cup semifinal?
Good or bad, you have a team behind you and at least two opportunities to put together a good match and pull out a win. Of course you want to win all your matches but that just doesn't happen sometimes. It definitely helps to have a team supporting you if your match doesn't go the way you needed it to. I know I have mentioned the team thing a few times now, but it is so different for us as an individual sport to have a coach on the bench and the rest of your team rooting for you. It is a nice change to experience something like that every now and again.
Do you think you and Liezel might play doubles together some, outside of Fed Cup? You seem really in sync with one another on the court.
I definitely think it is an option as we have played really well together the past few times. Mary Joe got a little nervous during one of the changeovers when Liezel asked me that exact question about playing together at some point this year. MJ said "lets finish this match, then you two can figure that out!" It made us laugh for a few minutes, but then we had to get back out there and finish the match. Liezel is fun to play with and she is obviously a great player. I am sure that we could do some damage on tour if we did in fact play together sometime. As for right now I am committed to my current partner Yan Zi of China for the rest of the European and grass season and once we get through that I will have to see how we are doing as a team and what we want to do for the US Open series.
You serve well, and you bring your doubles skills into your singles matches, especially your volleying. What are you working on right now, in terms of your singles play?
I think doubles is a great way to refine your singles skills as you get to work on your net game all the time as well as serves and returns. I would rather use a doubles match as a practice for my singles game since it is a live situation and the best way I feel I can train for singles. I have always been a serve and volley type of player on any surface and will continue to do so as I like that style of play. One of my goals for this year was to have a better first serve percentage and have the ability to grind from the baseline a little more while trying to set up my points. I sometimes have a tendency to try and put a point away to early rather than staying in a rally a little longer and waiting for that right shot. Not that it doesn't work to my advantage at times, but I need to have a little more patience on certain occasions.
What is your preferred surface?
I actually like all of them. I have done better on the grass and hard court, but I am really liking the clay right now since I like to hit a lot of spin. There are certain things about each surface that I like and can give me an advantage with my style of play. Clay is great for the heavy ball with a lot of spin, grass helps me with my low slices and serve/volley and hard court is a bit of both without the really long rallies like the clay, but not quite as short as some of the rallies on the grass.
The Italian Fed Cup team excels on clay courts, but they do well on hard courts, too. What will it take to defeat them in November, and will the USA take court surface speed into consideration when choosing a venue for the final?
I think you have to tailor the surface to our team and my personal opinion would be to have it on fast grass. Not that the Italians don't do well on grass, but we need to get them out of their comfort zone and give ourselves the best opportunity to play well. I was not there for the final last year since I was rehabbing an injury, but the other girls told me it was like playing in a sandbox since the clay was so deep and slow. That obviously helped the Italian team more than it did for us. Whatever surface they choose is fine with me, I just want to have another opportunity to compete for Team USA and have a chance to bring the Cup back home to the States!