Mattek-Sands has big game to go with colorful outfits

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, above, knocked off No. 17 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to reach the Round of 16.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, above, knocked off No. 17 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to reach the Round of 16.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands is probably best known for her unorthodox tennis outfits, ranging from leopard print to knee socks to a special soccer-themed outfit at Wimbledon during the 2006 World Cup.

She also used to change her hair color on a regular basis. But Mattek-Sands, who celebrated her 32nd birthday on Thursday, has proven time and again that there is serious game behind the colorful clothing.

This week at the Miami Open, she entered as a wild card and on Saturday advanced to the Round of 16 with a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 upset of 17th-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia.

In the previous round, she knocked off No. 10 Elena Svitolina. Mattek-Sands is ranked No. 158, so beating top 20 players back-to-back at this stage of her career is reason for celebration. The fact that it is happening on her birthday week makes it even more special.

She said she celebrated her birthday with “a delicious meal” at PM Fish and Steakhouse.

On Saturday, for her morning match on the Grandstand court, she wore a shirt decorated with giant red cherries and her trademark black compression knee socks. The socks, it turns out, are not just a fashion statement.

“I have some varicosities on my lower legs, and sometimes when I fly my ankles get swollen, so there’s a reason [for the socks],” she said. “I wish there were more funky colors, because I have just found black and white.”

Mattek-Sands, who lives in Phoenix, is a four-time Grand Slam champion in doubles but has gotten past the third round of a Slam in singles only once in her 18-year career — the fourth round at the 2013 French Open.

Through the ups and downs of her career, she has always had fun and appreciated every opportunity.

“I love playing tennis; I like to be creative out there, I like to sweat,” she said.

And yes, she likes to entertain fans with her choice of clothing.

“It’s my personality, and it’s how I would be if I didn’t play tennis,” she said. “I just like showing my personality on the court. When I was little, my aunt used to make my tennis clothes, so I always had something different, so that’s where it began. I had a lot of unique stuff, she’d pick out the patterns.”

She says if she weren’t a tennis player, she would be an interior designer or a fashion designer, but her true dream would be to go back to school and study philosophy.

“I read a lot of philosophy books ... Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, I am reading Tao teaching by Lao Tzu right now. I love that side of things,” she said.

She has learned not to focus on the past or the future but to focus on the present. That has helped her in life and on the court.

She enjoys playing at the Miami Open because the fun atmosphere suits her style. It also feels like home because she used to live in Coconut Grove and train in Key Biscayne, and her parents live in Boca Raton.

“I love coming down here because it’s like a hometown tournament to me,” she said. “I love the energy. I feed a lot off the fans’ energy, so I love playing on crowded courts and playing here is exciting.”

Related stories from Miami Herald