Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been a breath of fresh air since she began playing full time on the tour in 2002. Now 27, she’s broken barriers in the tennis fashion, world with her eclectic outfits, she’s always been honest, colorful and heck of a competitor when she’s been healthy.
But it has been a rough stretch for the American, who reached a career high No. 30 in singles in 2011 and then she was bit by the injury bug.
In 2012, another bug bit her again and this one was of the mysterious type as she couldn’t identify exactly what it was. She was constantly losing energy, was having trouble recovering even after appropriate periods of rest and also had a mineral deficiency. On top of that, she had developed Candida, which is an overgrowth of yeast in the body. She was as even experiencing short-term memory loss, mixing up words and losing track of conversations
Then at the 2012 Canadian Open in August, she had an epiphany.
“We won the first set and I sat down and actually felt myself start to fall asleep,” Mattek-Sands told 10sball.coms in Brisbane, where she has reached the doubles final with her close friend Sania Mirza.
“Usually I can suck it up in match because you have your adrenaline going and I’ve never not been able to suck it up and get the energy. I knew I had to get this addressed.”
She took a blood test for food allergies and came back with 20 different things that she’s allergic too. Once she eliminated those foods last fall, she began to turn the corner.
“It was a lot of things that I ate a lot like tomatoes, avocadoes, pineapples, beans, potatoes, eggplant , mangoes – a lot of healthy foods,” she said.
Fortunately she wasn’t allergic to protein-based foods like meat and fish, and although she is allergic to gluten, she can still eat rice and other things so she is still able to carbo load when necesary. She is allergic to cheese, which is difficult because it’s her favorite food.
It was relief to discover what was ailing her as in her words, she was always in a state of inflammation.
She not all the way there yet, but she is feeling a good deal better.
““I’ve started feeling a lot better,” she said. “I can finally wake up. I get tired here and there, but it’s better because I know there’s an answer. I’m happy. even though I know I still have a journey to go.:
Mattek is just 27, but she has been playing on tour nearly full time for over decade. After early 2009 hip surgery, she spent almost two years fighting up the rankings again, playing one qualifying event after another. In 2011, she reached the top 35 after reaching the final of Hobart, the semis of the Paris Indoors, the quarterfinals of Madrid and the quarters of Copenhagen. She was peaking and looked like a top threat, then just after she was seeded at major for the first time at Wimbledon, but she injured shoulder and the rest of her season was a wash.
In singles, it’s been an uphill climb since then as she ended 2012 ranked No. 173.
This year she has changed her goals, so rather than focus on ranking, she is trying to improve her mental approach. She has found herself to be overly analytical and focusing too much on what she did wrong when she’s lost.
“I want to go out and play by instinct and reaction and get over losses more quickly,” she said. “I told my husband Justin and my coach Adam [Altschuler] that I want to be the best loser this year. If I lose I want to get everything that I get out of the match.”
That is much easier said than done because while it’s admirable to set performance goals within matches, winning and losing defines a players ranking and status in the game. But that doesn’t mean that focusing on results is helpful.
“One of the first things I try to do after every match is name the things that I did well,” Mattek-Sands said. “I remember after one match I was trying to do it but I was so pissed that I lost that I couldn’t. You are fighting yourself and I have such a tendency to critical of myself thinking it would make me better and it didn’t. So now I try to recreate the good shots that I hit and that helps more.”
While Mattek-Sands is focusing more on her game ithing the game, she does want to climb back into the top 30 this year and would love to win a Grand Sal doubles title with Mirza, whom she is committed to playing with all season.
Next week she’ll head to Melbourne where she will attempt to qualify for the Australian Open.
She’s not rookie, but she is still willing to put in the hard yards to get back to where she belongs.
“I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again,” she said.