Lunch with Bethanie and Justin

Bethanie Mattek_Sands

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Soup and salad at Jacob's Kitchen, just another Tuesday on the WTA Tour for Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Except that this woman pushes the norm. High socks on the court. Husband watching every serve and volley.

Mattek-Sands, unlike most of the best tennis players in the world, is married and travels the globe with omnipresent and personable Justin Sands. At 26, she is the top-ranked American player not named Williams (No. 41) and the only seeded American in this week's Family Circle Cup singles draw (No. 14).

Plus, Bethanie has some darn impressive tattoos.

"These are killer bees," she says, pointing to her left forearm. "Because 'Killer B' was my nickname growing up."

Those pretty flowers on the upper arm?

"My Zen garden," Bethanie explains. "Water lilies. This tattoo is actually not finished yet, but it just hurt so much getting it done I had to stop."

Justin Sands smiles.

He knows what's coming next.

"And this," says his wife of 29 months, "is Justin's name written inside my ring finger."

Justin, 28, has a "Bethanie" tattoo, too. Giant. All the way down his right arm.

"That's it," their lunch guest says. "You guys definitely have to stick together now."

"Yeah," Justin says jokingly, "and if it doesn't work out, it will remind me of a great time in my life."

Their eyes meet. They laugh.

'Sappy romantics'

The couple's jet-set and surprisingly grounded life is like a reality show.

And, hey, check it out. Now playing: The "Xperia Hot Shots" online reality show featuring six WTA players. The latest installment of Bethanie zooming around the Homestead-Miami Speedway in a racecar had received more than 28,000 hits before Justin Sands reached for his first pimento cheese fry Tuesday afternoon.

They met through a mutual friend, sports injury specialist Dr. Malcolm Conway. He had treated Justin, a

former defensive tackle at the University of Albany (New York) and suggested he "look after" a fellow patient on her way to train near Sands' home in Phoenix.

Justin: "I knew nothing about tennis and didn't really care. But I thought, sure, I'll show her around."

Bethanie: "(Conway) told me about Justin. I was just thinking, 'Well, I hope he's cute.' So I called him and we met at his house and it was basically love at first sight."

Justin: "Not that we're sappy romantics."

Bethanie: "We're really not. But the door opened and it was like this big double-take."

Justin: "Three dates."

Bethanie: "And we said, 'OK, we're getting married.'"

One of their first married memories is Bethanie winning the 2009 Family Circle Cup doubles title with Nadia Petrova. Justin runs his insurance company from the road. They eagerly take part in charitable causes. They have talked about kids with a vague target date of Bethanie's 30th birthday.

Taco Boy plans

Bethanie passes on those complimentary cheese fries. But she loves Jacob's Kitchen and every other Charleston restaurant.

"What a great culinary town," Justin says.

Bethanie nods between bites.

"We went to Magnolia's last night," she says. "We went to Grill 225 the other night. We really want to go to Taco Boy. And FIG."

She is 5-6 and weighs 145 fit pounds.

"I don't monitor calories," Bethanie says. "The biggest thing for me is getting enough protein."

Bethanie getting married in November of 2008 was a big deal on tour; Venus and Serena Williams raved about the wedding dress. It's easy to tell why Bethanie is one of the more popular WTA players.

"Justin's kind of brought me out of my shell," she says. "I was more shy and reserved before I met him."

On Tuesday, she was named to her fifth U.S. Fed Cup team, meaning more time on the road for a couple that has been home in Phoenix for one day since Dec. 26. They appreciate the chance to stay on Johns Island with host couple-turned-friends Diana and Bernie Cignavitch during the Family Circle Cup.

But Justin calls the WTA tour a "traveling circus."

With affection, of course.

"We're having a lot of fun," he says. "I know it seems like spending a lot of time together might be hard, and we are together 24/7 almost year-round all over the world. But I went hunting for just a few days last winter and I wanted to get home. I mean, I missed her."

Bethanie leaned softly to her left.

"Awww," she said, nudging up against her husband and his mega-tattoo.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or 937-5593.