Bethanie Mattek-Sands stood on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, triumphantly holding her doubles trophy in the air with partner Lucie Safarova, as the crowd cheered appreciatively. It was her first US Open win after 15 previous appearances; the pair rallied back to victory after being down a set, and Mattek-Sands choked back tears as she addressed the audience.
That was a year ago.
Fast-forward to the present, and Mattek-Sands is back in Flushing Meadows for 2017's last Grand Slam. This year, though, she's walking around the crowd with a crutch and working as a commentator for Tennis Channel after a knee injury ended her season at Wimbledon in July.
But don't feel sorry for her. She certainly doesn't -- and she's loving her time in New York.
"First of all, I get to enjoy a margarita at the end of the night," she says. "So that's pretty great and one thing I definitely don't get to do while I'm here playing. And I'm enjoying getting to go out and talk to my friends and watch them play, and go out to dinner and do that type of stuff."
Having won the 2016 US Open and 2017 Australian Open and French Open doubles titles, Mattek-Sands and Safarova were hoping to achieve the elusive Slam, or the "Bucie Slam" as fans were calling it, with four-straight Grand Slam titles. But it wasn't meant to be. The 32-year-old went down during her second-round Wimbledon singles match. Screaming "help me" as she clutched her knee in pain, she was removed from the court by stretcher, and the video of the disturbing incident almost immediately went viral.
So instead of battling with Safarova for their first Wimbledon doubles title, Mattek-Sands and her husband, Justin Sands, headed to New York six weeks earlier than originally planned. She was diagnosed with a dislocated kneecap and a torn patella tendon, underwent surgery and has remained in New York since.
The couple stayed with friends in the Hamptons after the surgery and enjoyed an oceanfront view, which she credits with helping her get over any sadness she might've felt. She attends rehabilitation twice a day -- something she says is her absolute priority -- but she isn't trying to hurry back to competition too quickly. While initially upset at her misfortune, she says she refused to let it keep her down and has since tried to focus on the positive.
"Honestly, to be disappointed in anything takes away from the moment," she says. "I'm a big believer that you have a choice in your attitude and your reactions, and I'm choosing to have a good time right now. Tennis will be there when I come back."
While her doctor isn't giving her a specific timetable, her goal is to return in time for the 2018 Australian Open. She believes she's already well ahead of schedule.
And she would know. This isn't the first time she has sustained a season-ending knee injury. In 2013, Mattek-Sands tore her medial collateral ligament (MCL) during a match in Quebec City. She says she tried to return too quickly after her surgery and spent her recovery time wishing she was back on tour.
"I look back now, and I see that I was a bit hard on myself and a bit negative, and pushed myself to rush back," she says. "And was it worth it? Honestly, not really.
"I ended up coming back and playing better than ever. Was there a reason to not enjoy it? No. I can enjoy it and come back, so I should probably do that."
Since that injury, Mattek-Sands has won six Grand Slam titles (five doubles, one mixed doubles) and an Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles. She is confident she can return from this setback and achieve similar results.
While she believes her attitude and laidback approach to her recovery this time around has actually helped speed up the process, she is also encouraged by all the fans who have reached out with supportive words and their own stories of getting over injuries.
Mattek-Sands is frequently approached by fans at the US Open and on social media, where she is active on Instagram, and some have told her that she motivated them to return to the gym or to try some of the exercises she posted after their own injuries. Mattek-Sands constantly finds herself inspired by such comments and vows to thank those fans once she returns to the court.
In the meantime, she's just living for the present. After the US Open ends, she'll finally return home to Phoenix to continue her rehab work and eventually resume practicing for the new season. But before that, she'll cheer on her friends -- especially Safarova in her singles and doubles matches -- and spend a few days at New York Fashion Week, something the famously stylish Mattek-Sands has never before been able to attend due to time constraints.
"I'm taking advantage of all these opportunities right now," she says. "Enjoying the moment is key. I love tennis, and just being around it, so I think that's why I'm still having so much fun right now."