In times gone by Andrea Petkovic liked to celebrate her wins by performing the moonwalk. It didn’t happen after her first round 6-1, 6-4 win over the world No.101 Katarzyna Piter on Court 18, but that wasn’t because the No.20 seed didn’t appreciate the victory. It’s just that she savours tennis differently these days.
In 2011 Petkovic was 23 and on the way up, becoming the only WTA player to reach the quarter-finals at three of that year’s Slam tournaments. She became the first German woman to finish the year inside the top 10 since Steffi Graf in 1998, and the future was waiting. It just wasn’t the future she imagined.
Successive back, ankle and knee injuries laid waste to 2012, and she found it hard to recover. Her ranking sank as low as No.177, and the wretched nadir came a little over a year ago when she was humiliatingly defeated in the second round of qualifying at Roland Garros by the world No.156 Zhou Yi-Miao. Petkovic thought seriously of quitting. But she hung on, and has been climbing back up ever since. This year she won her third career title, at Charleston, before making the semis at Roland Garros earlier this month, falling only to rising superstar Simona Halep.
“It’s feels very exciting to be coming back to my best again,” smiled Petkovic. “I’ve embraced this second chance. I’m much happier and much more grateful. When I was the top 10, I was caught up in trying to get better and get more points and higher in the rankings. But you shouldn’t forget to enjoy the nice things you have achieved and to appreciate everything that’s happening.
“I don’t do the moonwalk any more. I guess I’ve matured. I tried to stop doing it a lot of times but the fans kept screaming for it. I’m not good at saying no, so I had to really learn to say ‘OK, I’m quitting now, I’m done with that – it’s over’. It wasn’t as spontaneous as it was before.”
In the world of elite sporting achievement, where one-eyed, near-demonic ambition is the minimum requirement, Petkovic’s list of extra-curricular interests is remarkable – in fact, it is somewhat remarkable by anyone’s standards. She famously speaks four languages and if she is in the mood for a little light reading she favours Flaubert, Dante and Wilde. She is interested in politics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and she lists her most admired people as “Goethe (for his genius in writing) and Che Guevara (for his genius in fighting)”. Players with this kind of hinterland are not exactly a dime a dozen.
Moreover, according to two-time Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, whom Petkovic defeated in the quarters at Roland Garros, the German’s tennis is pretty intelligent too.
“She doesn’t overpower you,” observed the Russian. “She takes off the speed very well. She plays very smart tennis.”
How far those smarts can take Petkovic at Wimbledon 2014 remains to be seen. All three of her career titles have come on her favourite surface of clay, and she is not enamoured of grass. She wobbled momentarily against Piter, losing her opening serve, but then won seven straight games to grab complete control of the match.
“I’m not feeling that bad on this stuff, actually,” grinned Petkovic, whose best year in SW19 was 2011 when she made the third round. “It’s never going to be my favourite surface but I’m trying to adapt. I have improved a lot. I’m trying to have a more positive attitude and I’m moving much better than in past years. I’m more secure with myself since winning Charleston. After the great success of Roland Garros, I was in a kind of euphoria. The first two days on grass are weird. I am just sailing through on the French Open ship, I hope.”
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