Daniel Island, S.C., April 8, 2016 — Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova have a groove going. Their on-court connection is so strong they’ve won two Grand Slams since teaming up at the Australian Open in 2015, which they won in their very first tournament together. They currently are ranked number one on the WTA’s Road to Singapore leaderboard.
Today, the two — who call themselves friends — advanced to the semifinals at Volvo Car Open. They defeated Gabriela Dabrowski and Darija Jurak, 6-3 7-6(6), coming from behind in the tiebreak to clinch the win.
“It always feels good to win,” they said, glancing at each other and laughing.
Both women have gone through tough times with their health. In the fall of 2012 Mattek-Sands suffered from chronic fatigue and was diagnosed with 26 severe food allergies. Last fall Safarova was hospitalized with a bacterial infection, saying, “they never [have] been able to find what it was exactly because it was not in a database.
“We tried six different antibiotics until I find something that helped. It was my first time in the hospital. Luckily we found a treatment; and, I’ve been able to get out of it.”
On top of the bacterial infections — she contracted two during a three-month period — she developed ‘reactive arthritis.’
“I couldn’t do anything,” she began. “I couldn’t even walk. I’ve struggled with that for another four months and missed Australia. With all the doctors’ help I’ve been able to come back. I had to start from zero with my fitness.”
Safarova first returned to the tour in Doha this year. She feels better everyday, yet hopes were lifted considerably last week when she and Mattek-Sands won The Miami Open, their third WTA Premier crown. They won the French Open in 2015.
“We just understand each other,” Safarova said, again looking toward Bethanie for confirmation and support.
“We’ve learned how hard to push our bodies,” Mattek-Sands interjected. “We’re both pretty positive people. We bring that on the court even if playing singles.”
As nonchalant as they seemed about their on-court magic, the two have found something that doubles pairs seek in order to win.
“It’s not always easy to find someone who is the right partnership,” Safarova said. “But we seemed to have that from the first moment.”
“I think a really big part of it is we are really good friends off the court,” Mattek-Sands said. “It’s something that gets you through those tough times in a match. You have a friend you can rely on to pump you up. Even if worse comes to worse and you lose you’re still friends. I think that’s a big part of it.”
They were down 6-2 in the tiebreak today.
“I think that we are always in the moment,” Lucie said. “Until the last point is finished things can always change. We just follow the next point and that’s how you win a tournament.”
“We just fought back,” Bethanie began. “I know she’s got my back and I have her back.”
Equal pay for men’s and women’s singles players has been a recent hot-button issue. But doubles’ teams are no where near parity, when comparing their prize money to that of singles players. Doubles teams are not paid as much; and, they don’t get the TV, or otherwise, coverage.
“Yeah, that’s something we were a little disappointed about in Miami,” Safarova said. “The final wasn’t streamed. They had the cameras there and didn’t show it.”
“I know a lot of fans are bummed,” Bethanie said. “Especially here in the U. S. with league players. They play doubles. That’s what the majority of players play. And, I’ve had so many people come up and say they’ve loved watching women’s doubles. So, we’re hoping that the great fan support, here and Miami … like some of them couldn’t even get on a court there. That’s a positive. it will show the TV guys and the tournaments that people really enjoy watching doubles and should showcase it much more.”
And, about the money …
“We can definitely start stepping up at some of the smaller tournaments,” Mattek-Sands said. “Overall, prize money has been going up. That’s great. But there’s a big difference between a doubles first round and even a singles quarterfinals. Doubles players work as hard. They travel just as much. They have to go to the same cities and stay as long in the hotels. So even if you’re losing in the first round, you should be able to pay your expenses.”
Mattek-Sands and Safarova, who are seeded number one at the Volvo Car Open this week, have never won in Charleston. But, they are on their way. Tomorrow they play for a spot in the final on Sunday. If they win the title, they’ll split $40,300. The singles’ champ will earn $128,100.