WIMBLEDON – It could happen to anyone, Sorana Cirstea said.
Those are the risks of playing on grass.
But on Thursday, it happened to her opponent during their second-round singles match at Wimbledon. It happened to a friend she likes and respects immensely, just a few feet away from her.
Later, after Bethanie Mattek-Sands’s horrific knee injury gave Cirstea the victory by default, she recounted the incident.
“She went into shock. She kept staying, ‘Sorana, help me. Sorana, help me. Sorana, help me.’
“I said, ‘I am here, you are strong, you can do this. I was trying, but of course I felt useless. In this kind of moment when she was screaming so loud, you watch the knee, it was a very uncomfortable moment. I felt, yeah, a little bit useless. I wish I could have done more,” the Romanian said.
Here’s what happened (if you’re squeamish, skip it. The soundtrack is both harrowing and heartbreaking):
Cirstea didn’t actually see it.
The first thing she saw was that Mattek-Sands had hit the grass. And then the 32-year-old American started screaming. And then Cirstea saw the state of Mattek-Sands’ knee as soon as she crossed over the net and got closer.
“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,” she said. “Then, yeah, 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 way Cirstea described it, the patella was displaced; it was nowhere near where it should have been.
The official word from the WTA is “acute right knee injury”
Help slow in coming
The concerns, going forward, were about how long it took for help to arrive.
It was a steamy hot day at the All-England Club on Thursday. And there were multiple incidents of fans in the stands overcome by the heat.
During the match between Juan Martin del Potro and Ernests Gulbis across the grounds on No. 3 Court, the match was stopped for fully 25 minutes at one point. Two spectators had been overcome by the head and needed care. But in those cases as well, help took a long time to come.
“For me at least, I was there on the ground, and it felt forever. It was me, her husband (Justin Sands) and my physio,” Cirstea said. “I don’t know, there are sports where you see something’s happening, you see straightaway the help. Like I know football, box(ing), all the others, it’s straightaway.
“So of course you wonder what happen if it was a heart issue or something like this. Yes, of course, you start (to) wonder.
But I think someone has to take the video and actually time and see how long it took for people to get there. Because for me, I think she was too long on the ground. I mean, I was there for 10, 15 minutes, then I left and the stretcher was not there yet,” she added.
At one point, Mattek-Sands’ doubles partner and best friend Lucie Safarova came over. She was about to play her own singles match against Shelby Rogers – she already had her match kit on. She looked stricken.
Safarova ended up losing the match 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3. Her post-match plan was to go see her friend in the hospital.
A popular player
Cirstea said Mattek-Sands was actually her friend, someone she gets along very well with. “You don’t even want this to happen to your worst enemy. But to your friend, you know… ” she said.”It’s not easy because at the end of the day it’s not about tennis any more. We are like a family. You want everyone to be okay. It doesn’t matter you win, you lose, once you are out, you want them to be okay.”
In her younger days Mattek-Sands was known more for her iconoclastic tennis outfits than her tennis. But as the years have passed, she has evolved into not only an excellent singles player – a great, athletic, all-court player who does everything well – but the best doubles player in the world.
She and Safarova, having won last year’s US Open, and the Australian and French Open this year, were going for the non-calendar Grand Slam at Wimbledon.
More than that, Mattek-Sands has matured into a valued voice on the WTA Tour, a den mother to some of the younger players. She’s a player liked and respected by almost everyone, who treats everyone with respect.
There’s a certain comfort level she has grown into professionally, a certain security. Mattek-Sands knows where she stands in the game. She knows how good she is at what she does. And now, in her 30s a certain level of grace, almost statesmanship (tattooed statesmanship, the 21st century kind) has set in.
She and husband Justin Sands, who travels with her and was quick to jump on the court to try to come to her aid Thursday, are popular fixtures around the tennis circuit.
Here she is during their first-round doubles win the previous day.
A post shared by BeTHaniE MATTeK-SaNDS (@matteksands) on Jul 8, 2017 at 2:07am PDT
The well-wishes on Twitter came quickly and often.
No doubt there were many more sent privately.