WIMBLEDON, England – Decked out in a Lady Gaga-inspired jacket festooned with real tennis balls, Bethanie Mattek-Sands stepped onto Court 14 at Wimbledon and noticed a tour official, walkie-talkie at the ready.
"I'm not hitting any balls in it. Don't worry," she assured the official. "It's too heavy to wear."
The news was transmitted back to the base. Crisis averted.
Wimbledon's rule book stipulates that "any competitor who appears on court dressed in a manner deemed unsuitable by the Committee will be liable to be defaulted."
Mattek-Sands, famous for her unusual fashion taste, had given due warning about her latest wacky outfit.
"Wimby has never seen something like this!" she announced to her Twitter followers earlier in the day.
It certainly didn't contravene Wimbledon's "predominantly white" ruling. The only color on the jacket was the silver of the studs on the sleeves. In between were 12 half tennis balls. It also featured white fringe and a wide, pointed lapel.
It was the work of British designer Alex Noble, who has also collaborated with Lady Gaga. Mattek-Sands has spoken of her admiration for the American singer renowned as much for her unusual clothing as her music.
Such was the buzz around Mattek-Sands' apparel that a throng of about 10 photographers gathered outside the usually quiet backwater of Court 14 before her first-round match against Misaki Doi of Japan.
The photographers jostled each other as Mattek-Sands approached, Doi trailing unnoticed behind her. The 26-year-old American paused briefly to soak up the attention before draping the jacket over the chair. Underneath, she wore a skin-tight white dress with one long sleeve and one short sleeve — revealing a tattooed arm — and her trademark knee-high socks.
Under her eyes, she had black strips with a silver "B'' painted on top.
For Mattek-Sands, it was a relatively sober outfit. The Phoenix resident has a reputation for testing the boundaries of fashion taste. She was fined at the 2005 U.S. Open for wearing a cowboy hat onto court but it didn't prevent her from sporting a leopard-print number at the tournament a year later.
The Wimbledon Museum snapped up the World Cup-inspired outfit Mattek-Sands wore at the tournament in 2006. After losing to Doi 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 Wednesday, the 2011 jacket might soon be on display.
"I actually haven't even thought about it," Mattek-Sands said when asked what might happen to the garment. "I'll have to ask Alex Noble if he wants to do something with it."
Despite what turned out to be a fashion flop on the day, Mattek-Sands had no regrets.
"Obviously it's tough for tennis players to kind of show who they are off the court other than clothes, or something they might say on the court," she said. "So I think it's a good way just to kind of get women's tennis more exposure."
Noble described Mattek-Sands' Wimbledon outfit as "a bit more street — an urban take on tennis and couture."
Doi, who won her first ever Grand Slam match against the 30th-seeded American, said she was "surprised" by the jacket and wasn't sure it was something she'd be tempted to wear.
"I don't think I am suitable for that costume," she said through a translator.
Noble also designed a dress for Mattek-Sands' appearance at the WTA's Wimbledon party last week. That understated number was fluorescent yellow, with yellow tennis balls stitched into the corset and a Mohican-style headpiece.
The next Grand Slam for Mattek-Sands will be the U.S. Open where there are no limits on color. Last year, she wore a bright pink, patterned vest top. She hasn't started planning this year's outfit.
"It'll be something colorful," she promised.