How 'bout that? They went to see a fashion parade on Court 14, and a tennis match broke out.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands arrived for her second-round tie with Misaki Doi wearing a jacket that could only be described as explosive. That is to say, it appeared to be in the very process of exploding. The fabric – predominately white, of course – was ludicrously frilled and festooned in tennis balls. It looked not unlike an igloo, presumably one in which someone had cut a hole in the ice below. For the quickest way to catch a fish, as everyone knows, is to drop a grenade in the water.
Mattek-Sands was also sporting trademark black stripes above her cheekbones. This may look another affectation, but is apparently borrowed from the NFL, where it is said to reduce glare. Be that as it may, it made her look exactly as though some practical joker had purloined Hercule Poirot's moustache, and placed it beneath her eyes while she was sleeping.
Perhaps that kind of surreal disjunction might gratify the soi-disant Lady Gaga of her sport. Certainly she seemed thoroughly pleased with the resulting look. She posed and preened for the paparazzi. Two hours and 16 minutes later, however, they would have required shutter speeds faster than a chameleon's tongue to capture her furious exit from the court – and the tournament.
It has become the personal crusade of Mattek-Sands to redress the consensus that the women's tour lacks both calibre and characters. What her performance here seemed to demonstrate is a failure to recognise the nexus between the two as character, pure and simple.
That is a little harsh, as she did well to drag herself back into the match after looking down and out in the second set. And there is no mistaking a feisty, assertive quality in her game, which has moments of terrific dynamism. But all this elaborate, self-conscious display – and those judging her outfit here must take into consideration a series of previous offences – inevitably invites the suspicion, however supercilious, that she might be better off trying to be a tennis player first, and a rock icon second.
She certainly has ability, which is in notoriously scarce supply in the American game. Having reached No 31 in the world, she is ranked below only the Williams sisters among her compatriots. Maddeningly, however, she contrived to squander some classic grass-court play against one of those remorseless, east-west baseliners who seem to have numbed so many of the herbivores into submission.
To that extent, incongruously enough, Mattek-Sands has the potential to become a darling of the old school. They could not possibly consider her especially elegant, in her movement, but it was tremendous at last to see someone immune to the modern dread of the net. Whereas so many players seem convinced that the middle of the court has been laid with mines, she galloped in from the baseline on the slightest pretext. If she managed a satisfactory rendezvous with the ball, moreover, she might flay it into the corner or stun it dead. Regrettably, she proved equally capable of dabbing it lamely into the net – as she did, this time from the baseline, when Doi had dropped her racket as the first set reached its climax. That gave Doi set point, and Mattek-Sands obliged her with a double fault.
Even after this, her exuberance made it seem legitimate to discover, in her quizzical expression when facing serve, some secret amusement. At 2-4 down in the second, however, she acquired an overdue look of thunder, a determined dimple in her chin. In turning the set round, she was irresistible, chasing lost causes and not so much ferocious as homicidal in her winners.
Ultimately, however, it proved culpable to have been seduced by all the studied exoticism on one side of the net. Even as Mattek-Sands appeared to have all the momentum, Doi showed pluck to match a verve of her own. Both women were execrable on their second serve, barely managing to win one in three points between them. But when Doi sniffed her chance, at 6-5 in the decider, she took it with an inner conviction that exposed all the shallow strut in her opponent's wardrobe. First Doi lobbed her at the net; and then, on match point, she sent her scrambling forward to salvage a drop with an attempted lob of her own. It cleared the baseline, and finally Doi could shed her oriental reserve with a joyous celebration. She had won 6-4, 5-7, 7-5.
Mattek-Sands proved an obedient foil. She shrieked some graceless complaint about a line-call, smashed a ball away, barely brushed Doi's hand and did not even glance at the umpire as she scurried away. Her jacket, by now, did not just look silly. It looked really rather sad.