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Bethanie Mattek-Sands wins longest WTA match of the season

Rodionova takes a seat on the baseline after complaining to the umpire about moisture on the courts in the second set. Anastasia Rodionova takes a seat after complaining to the umpire about court moisture. (Screencap from TennisTV)

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Bethanie Mattek-Sands saved a match point and survived plenty of drama against Australian hot head Anastasia Rodionova on Monday to win 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3) in the first round of the Family Circle Cup. The match lasted three hours and 42 minutes, the longest on the WTA Tour this year, besting the three-hour, 33-minute quarterfinal between Alize Cornet and Lourdes Dominguez Lino in Acapulco, Mexico, in February.

So why might a match take that long? Rodionova threw tantrums, yelling at umpires and fans, and took extended time between points to limp through an injury.

The match seesawed through two and a half sets, with leads exchanged via 13 breaks of serve. It took a dramatic turn late in the third set when Mattek-Sands, serving at 3-4 and deuce, hit a winner to earn game point. What happened after Rodionova lunged for the ball wasn't caught by the TV cameras (she was out of frame), but a number of ushers told me that Rodionova landed in splits and injured her hamstring. She immediately called for the trainer and sat in her chair, writhing in pain. The match resumed after a lengthy off-court medical timeout. Rodionova doubled over in apparent pain between points but bounced up and down and sprinted from side to side during them. She screamed in agony as she moved to hit the ball.

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Rodionova propping herself up with her racket as she prepares to return serve. (Screencap from TennisTV) Anastasia Rodionova props herself up with her racket as she prepares to return serve. (Screencap from TennisTV)

The players traded holds, and on the next changeover Rodionova lashed out at a trainer over which tape job should be applied. She finally slapped the trainer's hand away, threw a water bottle into her bag in disgust and walked away while continuing to yell at the trainer.

Rodionova's penchant for antagonizing umpires and taking out her frustration on fans and officials is no secret in the locker room. As word got out about the match, players started to pay attention.

"It was such a crazy match," said Andrea Petkovic, who watched most of it from the player balcony alongside Jamie Hampton, Madison Keys and Vania King. "I think when [the players] see it's Mattek-Sands and Rodionova against each other, it's already kind of tension. And then you see 4-all in the third and you see a 20-minute break, everybody knows there's drama.

"I think the young Americans were texting like, 'You have to come and see this.'"

After Mattek-Sands hit a big forehand winner to save match point and held for 5-5, Rodionova spent the next game getting into it with the umpire over line calls. "Call the frickin' ball!" she screamed.

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Rodionova yelling at fans early in the third set. (Screencap from TennisTV Anastasia Rodionova yells at fans early in the third set. (Screencap from TennisTV)

Through all the distractions, Mattek-Sands stayed focused and quietly went about her business. After holding serve to 6-6, she played a steady, no-panic tiebreaker to finally close out the match.

"You expect it because she does do that," Mattek-Sands said when asked about Rodionova's on-court theatrics. "Sometimes it works in her advantage if she gets in her opponents' heads. You have to focus on your own game, and that's what I did."

Mattek-Sands won't get much time to rest. She plays Sloane Stephens on Tuesday night.

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