The Book On Andrea Petkovic, Tennis' Most Intriguing Character
PARIS -- I've covered sports for roughly 30 years, but I don't know if I've ever met an athlete as intriguing as Andrea Petkovic. In just a handful of interviews, I've listened to her talk about Freud, Goethe, politics, art, music, literature, travel, philosophy, movies and even a Giants-Dodgers baseball game.
In contrast, Nietzsche doesn't come up in postgame interviews with A-Rod.
Petkovic has a terrific sense of humor, but during the Australian Open she answered serious questions about the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks in Paris -- and she did so despite having lost in the first round just an hour or so before.
A huge art lover, Petkovic likes to spend her time in Paris strolling through the museums, but because she is nursing a thigh injury this week, she felt she had to take care of the leg by staying in her hotel room. "So I binge-watched 'Penny Dreadful,' if you know that show,'' she said. "It's great. You have to check it out.''
"She's a crazy character,'' says Fed Cup teammate and former doubles partner Julia Goerges. "She's different than most of the girls on the tour. I used to play doubles with her, so it's always pretty interesting and funny. But you can talk about a lot of things with her off the tennis court, which I think is very important because there are a lot of people who just want to talk tennis with you, and you don't want to have that the whole day.''
You certainly don't have to worry about conversation topics with Petko.
The 27-year-old was born in the former Yugoslavia, but her Serbian parents moved to Germany when she was a small child, and she grew up there. "The way I've been raised, and my education is very German, so I'm very accurate and punctual -- those kind of things are very German -- and strong-willed,'' she said. "But I also have a Serbian sort of fire inside of me where I can't control my emotions. There are a few Serbian things inside of me that always show through every now and then.''
She speaks German, Serbian, English and French. A voracious reader, she'll generally read a book in German first, and sometimes in English if that is the author's original language. "I read Hemingway all in English -- it's simple language -- but David Foster Wallace? I don't even understand what he's talking about in German. So I'm glad I didn't start with him in English.''
Her love of books began as a child; she often read because she was so shy around others.
"I guess I was always aware of myself, and aware of how awkward I was at some times, and wanted to change that in order to have more friends and be more popular,'' she said. "And so I tried to change my personality and be more outgoing. I made some really good friends who were very confident and intelligent, and they brought out more confidence in myself, and I felt like I was surrounded by really clever, really creative people, and that just gave me more confidence to interact with people.''
She is anything but shy now. She has a website, andreapetkovic.de/en, that includes some fun old video of her dressed in Turkish apparel while dancing and singing; she also delivers a mock newscast in which she reports on her "disappearance'' from Wimbledon after a loss, and she makes a sheepish admittance that she used to like the Backstreet Boys. She has gained fame for her twisting and shaking Petko dance, but that is a thing of the past. Her Twitter account has more than 168,000 followers.
Petkovic's career has had ups and downs thanks to repeated injuries. She rose as high as No. 9 in 2011 only to fall back when she suffered, among other things, a stress fracture in her spine, torn ligaments in her ankle and a torn meniscus in her knee. She was down to No. 143 at the end of 2012 and felt so low that she considered retiring and pursuing a career in journalism (she has written for a German paper and blogged for ESPN).
Fortunately, she stayed in tennis (much to journalism's loss) and made the climb back up, reaching the semis at last year's French Open.
This year has also been up and down. She lost in the first round of the Australian Open and was forced to withdraw twice -- from Stuttgart due to a left-thigh injury and from Madrid due to gastrointestinal illness -- and to retire once, in Nuremberg due to a right-thigh injury. But she won in Antwerp and reached the semis in Miami and Charleston. She's up to No. 10.
Her thigh was questionable coming into Roland Garros, but Petkovic won her first-round match against Shelby Rogers and will play Lourdes Dominguez Lino in the second round Thursday. The injury is getting better but is still worrisome.
"So I'm still not putting my expectations too high,'' she said. "I feel like a horse in [the starting gate] that wants to run out but I can't because the stall is blocking me. I feel like I'm playing really, really well, but it's just too dangerous yet to say anything.''
We'll see how she does here, but the more interesting question is what she does after her tennis career eventually ends.
"This might sound strange because everyone thinks that because I have a lot of interests apart from tennis that I know what I want to do, but it changes every day,'' Petkovic said. "One day I want to be a lawyer, and the next day I want to study biology because I don't know anything about it, and the third day I want to just be an art collector.
"I really don't know, but I hope one day it will click and a light will go on in my head.''
Whenever it does, it will be a very bright light.