They’re the doubles partners who stormed to twin titles soon after teaming up — and the secret of their success is simple; they enjoy what they do.
Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands triumphed at the Australian Open after joining forces last year.
And as if that wasn’t enough, they swiftly repeated the trick at the French Open, where they begin their title defense against Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson Thursday.
Czech Safarova and American Mattek-Sands have a partnership based as much on friendship and fun as it is on their compatibility as tennis players, the duo told CNN’s Open Court.
Take their first impressions of each other, for example.
“I hadn’t really talked to her, so I didn’t know her personality,” 31-year-old Mattek-Sands says. “And I thought: ‘She kind of looks mean — she’s really focused.'”
“What do you mean, mean?” laughs Safarova.
The 29-year-old Czech recalls: “We’d seen each other on the tour for so long, and I’d been watching her and thought: ‘That’s the cool girl.’ She was always wearing these funky dresses.”
Mattek-Sands admits she spent a while mispronouncing her doubles partner’s surname (she found that out when one of the umpires at last year’s Australian Open showed her how it was done) — but by then, the duo had already started sweeping all before them.
Unseeded, they saw off five seeded pairs on their way to the final, where they beat China’s Zheng Jie and Taiwan’s Chan Yung-jan in straight sets and became the first new pairing since 2005 to take the women’s doubles title at Melbourne.
They followed that up in spectacular fashion on the clay of Roland-Garros last June, with Safarova overcoming the disappointment of losing the singles final to Serena Williams as she and Mattek-Sands secured a 3-6 6-4 6-2 win over Casey Dellacqua and Yaroslava Shvedova.
“We came back in France — we were losing — and to turn it around was something special,” Mattek-Sands remembers. “But we were so tired we only had one glass of Champagne each afterwards.”
This January, the pair were unable to defend their Australian title when illness struck Safarova, who developed a bacterial infection that produced arthritic pains and had to spend time in hospital.
“I knew I would recover and the infection would go away, but the arthritis was more difficult because they could not give me a timeframe of when I would come back,” the Czech says, adding that Mattek-Sands had offered constant support throughout her ordeal.
“That was frustrating — but I was always positive and never doubted that I would recover, because I love sports and the only thing I wanted to do was live a normal active life again.
“Now, no matter whether I win or lose, I still have it in mind where I was a few months ago. I’m enjoying the moment. Having fun is the most important thing.”
And enjoyment is at the heart of the matter for both these players as they embark on a bid to retain their crown in the French capital.
“I just hope we continue to have fun and play well — I treasure some of the moments we have had on the court,” Mattek-Sands says.
“I think that, no matter what, we will be friends when we stop playing tennis.”