Mattek-Sands, 32, screams after her right knee buck­les

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Howard Fendrich

LON­DON» The screams were star­tling. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a 32-year-old Amer­i­can who came to Wim­ble­don eye­ing a fourth con­sec­u­tive Grand Slam dou­bles ti­tle, fell to the grass when her right knee buck­led as she moved to­ward the net in a se­cond-round sin­gles match Thurs­day.

She im­me­di­ately clutched her knee and, down on the turf, wailed loudly, im­plor­ing for some­one to “Help me! Help me!”

Her op­po­nent, So­rana Cirstea, im­me­di­ately climbed over the net to check on Mattek-Sands, who after about 20 min­utes was re­moved from Court 17 on a stretcher and taken to a hos­pi­tal.

“Her knee was in a very weird po­si­tion. I’ve never seen any­thing like this, prob­a­bly, ex­cept in the movies. And, yeah, I pan­icked a lit­tle bit, as well,” Cirstea said. “Then I called for help, but no one was com­ing. Then tried to com­fort her as much as I could. But, I mean, you could feel the pain.”

The ex­tent of Mattek-Sands’ in­jury, which came in the third set’s open­ing game, was not im­me­di­ately known. But word quickly spread around the grounds, gen­er­at­ing con­cern among play­ers. She’s pop­u­lar on tour, known for her gre­gar­i­ous per­son­al­ity, loud laugh and orig­i­nal fash­ion choices — in­clud­ing the stars-and-stripes, knee-high socks she wore while team­ing with Jack Sock to win a mixed-dou­bles gold medal for the U.S. at last year’s Rio Olympics.

“It’s the peak of her ca­reer right now,” said Bob Bryan, whose twin brother, Mike, won the 2015 French Open mixed-dou­bles ti­tle with Mattek-Sands. “She’s a fun-lov­ing girl. She doesn’t have any en­e­mies in the locker room.”

She’s also quite a dou­bles player, ranked No. 1 right now after team­ing with Lu­cie Sa­farova of the Czech Repub­lic to win the past three ma­jor cham­pi­onships and a to­tal of five. Sa­farova heard about Mattek-Sands on TV and ran to her court, then stood nearby and wiped away tears as she saw her friend and play­ing part­ner in dis­tress.

“Just ter­ri­ble what hap­pened. Ob­vi­ously, I’m very sad for her. Doesn’t mat­ter about what­ever goals we had,” Sa­farova said, her voice barely above a whis­per, after los­ing her sin­gles match to Shelby Rogers of the U.S. in three sets. “It’s just about her be­ing healthy.”

Mattek-Sands — who was born in Min­nesota, lived in Wis­con­sin and now calls Ari­zona home with her hus­band, Justin — thought about quit­ting ten­nis years ago after a se­ries of in­juries. There was hip surgery less than a week after her wed­ding in late 2008, a torn shoul­der in 2011, a bro­ken right big toe in 2012. Her rank­ing dropped out­side the top 250 in sin­gles and dou­bles in 2014, when she missed six months after an­other hip op­er­a­tion.

“I’m just, like, re­ally hurt for her,” Sa­farova said.

There was no in­di­ca­tion that the con­di­tion of the grass on the court had any­thing to do with Mattek-Sands’ fall, but play­ing sur­faces around the All Eng­land Club were a source of com­plaints by others Thurs­day. In par­tic­u­lar, the ar­eas near many base­lines are brown and worn, with lit­tle or no grass in spots — look­ing the way Wim­ble­don’s courts usu­ally do by late in Week 2, not as soon as Day 4 — some­thing play­ers said they were told was a re­sult of un­usual heat and lack of rain in re­cent weeks.

“The patch near the base­line is eaten up and the dirt un­der­neath is like ice. Look around, people are go­ing down left and right,” said 46th-ranked Ali­son Riske of the U.S., whose 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 vic­tory over 12thseeded Kristina Mlade­n­ovic of France at Court 18 was one of a hand­ful of up­sets in the women’s draw, in­clud­ing No. 3 Karolina Pliskova’s three-set loss to Mag­dalena Ry­barikova.

Daniel Leal-Oli­vas, Getty Im­ages

Bethanie Mattek-Sands is car­ried on a stretcher to an am­bu­lance after suf­fer­ing a knee in­jury dur­ing her se­cond-round match against Ro­ma­nia’s So­rana Cirstea on Thurs­day. Mattek-Sands is ranked No. 1 in the world in dou­bles.

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