The Kids' Kid
May 25, 2011 -- Bethany Mattek-Sands says she's better known in Europe than at home in America. That's okay with her. She's not much interested in popularity contests. She, instead, grooves to the rhythm of aggressive tennis and wild tennis fashion that sometimes knocks your eyes out.
And what a better day for Mattek-Sands, a perfectly upbeat punkish kids' kid, to push through her second round than Kids' Day, the loudest day of the tournament.
All day, and especially on any court a French player appeared, chair umpires reminded youngsters to quiet down as they filled the air with chants more appropriate at a soccer field than a tennis court. Bands of them yelled undecipherable rhythmic phrases back and forth across stadiums, just as they do every year on the first Wednesday at Roland Garros.
"S'il vous plait... Merci," the umpires said parentally. The din decreased, but never quite to the standards of, let's say, a match at Wimbledon.
But, hey... that's Kids' Day.
Mattek-Sands match against Varvara Lepchenko, a player who's listed as American but apparently needs to get some papers together, wasn't a walk in the woods of the Bois de Boulogne. But once Mattek-Sands clicked into her gutsy mode, the job got done: 63 26 63.
No one is the press asked to interview the fierce-appearing player, after her win. Maybe they were intimidated by the black war paint she swooshes under her eyes before matches.
"I've actually tried playing in sunglasses," she told Mary Carillo, in an interview for Tennis Channel a few days ago. "The first time I did it I actually whiffed a few volleys. Believe it or not, the eye black actually does reduce the glare."
She also told Carillo, "I'm not going to lie, it is a little scary sometimes."
Her black knee socks, bright yellow Under Armor tank top and black wrists bands, and dark blue tennis shoes aren't exactly traditional tennis attire. Add in the stripe of tattoos on the underside of her right arm and voila, a bold new look that has become popular with younger tennis fans and teens that haven't taken much interest in the game but sure dig her.
Goggle her name and you'll see photo after photo of her match attire: a leopard patterned skirt with matching hat or visor, an ultra tight and low-cut gold lame dress, and one white puffy-sleeved creation that resembled an off-kilter junior prom dress rather than anything close to what is accepted as a traditional in tennis fashion.
She finishes off most selections by wearing a pair of knee socks, not your everyday item in a Nike catalog. It's a trademark of sorts, but the eye black could soon replace them as iconic.
Get past the getups plus the National Football League makeup and you'll see a 26-year-old tennis pro that not only has turned tennis attire on its head, but is currently the highest ranked US woman in this year's singles draw -- the first French Open singles draw in the Open Era without one American woman seed.
Additionally, she's ranked #34 in the world but is projected to move up on Monday and nestle her scary tennis looking self between Serena Williams (now #17) and Venus Williams (now #30) on the WTA chart. That will make Mattek-Sands the second highest ranked American woman.
With the Williams' sisters missing in action, Andy Roddick out with a shoulder problem, and no one peeking out from behind the tennis talent curtain, Mattek-Sands could end up being America's next tennis star. She is a bulldozer of a player, able to dig in and fight like a warrior. Her Fed Cup record proves it. Her fitness speaks it. Don't mess with me -- her court presence screams.
If you think back to the 1980s when John McEnroe controlled his curly locks with a headband and Andre Agassi had yet to bring his 'image is everything' appeal to the pristine lawns of Wimbledon, you can see a slight resemblance to the present-day appeal of Mattek-Sands.
And it's good for tennis just like it was good for tennis back in the day.
While playing doubles with veteran Meghann Shaughnessy at Family Circle Cup this year, attendance records soared. Kids hung out to get her autograph. This was at a doubles match, which people think should be well attended but ordinarily end up being follow-up entertainment.
Apparently Mattek-Sands has yet another jaw-dropping outfit in the works for the players' party at Wimbledon.
"It's a dress designed completely with materials made from tennis equipment," Carillo wrote in a blog on Yahoo. "The guy making it is the same person who designs dresses for Lady Gaga."
What will they think at The All England Club?