PARIS (AP) — The scene was bone-chilling: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, then the top-ranked woman in doubles, writhing in agony on Wimbledon’s green turf and screaming: “Help me, please! My knee!”
So when the American made her return to Grand Slam tennis on Tuesday, on Court 14 at Roland Garros, she wasn’t merely aiming to win. She was also marking a milestone on her long road back.
“I’ve really enjoyed the journey,” she said after beating Sweden’s Johanna Larsson 6-4, 6-3 in the French Open first round. “I have made the most of all my moments, and it just keeps getting better and better.”
In the second round of the women’s singles at Wimbledon last July, Mattek-Sands was coming to the net to volley when a tendon ruptured in her right knee. She collapsed and the kneecap dislocated, shifting up to her thigh.
She had surgery five days later in New York. Then followed six weeks of having to keep the leg straight and immobile. Justin, her husband, carried her around. The right leg suffered from lack of use; her left leg lost muscle too.
“I couldn’t get myself out of bed, I couldn’t get myself to the bathroom, I couldn’t get myself into the shower. I couldn’t even move my leg if it was comfortable,” she said.
With tennis temporarily on hold, and her ranking slipping, Mattek-Sands used the time “to do other things with my life,” reading, writing and meditating.
Some days, just a little flex of the knee felt like a win.
On social media, she recorded her steps back to health. She didn’t want the defining image of her to be of those anguished wails on the Wimbledon grass.
Rehab was both physical and mental. Learning to trust the knee again took time.
“It sounds funny, but I talk to my knee,” she said. “Every morning, I’m like, ‘All right, we’re feeling good today!’”
Mattek-Sands, now ranked 202 in singles after being a career-high 30 in 2011, next plays 107th-ranked Andrea Petkovic of Germany.