WASHINGTON, June 2, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Andrea Petkovic is enjoying success on her own terms at the 2018 French Open. That means not only is she competing in the women’s singles draw, she’s also writing about her experiences – on deadline no less.
First, the unseeded German began her stay in Paris on a positive note when she pulled off a first-round upset of No. 29 seed Kristina Mladenovic of France, 7-6 (10), 6-2, and it continued a few days later with a solid win over American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-0, 7-6 (5). Asked how she would describe her play at Roland Garros thus far, Petkovic replied: “I would make a Greek tragedy out of it, probably, or a dramedy, maybe.” She laughed at the thought.
“So far, it’s going well, so why would it be a tragedy? Maybe something – I don’t know. A comedy more, so far,” she said. “I’ll be satisfied for a day, maybe half a day, then refocus and think about what’s coming up next.”
Facing the top-seed in Paris
After battling injuries for so long throughout her career, Petkovic has remained tough and resilient like a skilled professional. The long, sought-out benefits are beginning to pay off for her. On Saturday afternoon, Petkovic will face World No. 1 and French Open top seed Simona Halep in a third-round match on Court 18, one of the show courts at Stade Roland Garros. Clay is her favorite surface.
Despite a separation of 106 places in the current WTA rankings, Petkovic and Halep have a long history of great matches. Sometimes, because of their respect for one another and their shared sense of sportsmanship, it’s hard to tell who’s the winner and who’s not. That’s just fine with Petkovic. “Obviously, she’s playing really well here, and it’s going to be a really tough, tough thing for me to play against,” she said. “But, it’s going to be a big court again, so I’m going to do my best to enjoy it and play my best.”
Career high World No. 9
Petkovic has been in the Top 10 twice during her professional career, which began at age 19 in 2006. Her first time to the top came in October 2011 when she reached a career best No. 9. However, she fell from grace in the rankings thanks to injuries to her lower back and right ankle. Then, during the first half of 2015, her fortunes rose, again. Today, Petkovic is at or near the Top 100 and she arrived for this year’s French Open ranked No. 107. She came into 2018 owning six career singles titles and 11 wins over Top 10 opponents in her career. Her best finish at Roland Garros remains reaching the semifinals in 2014.
“I’m 30 now, which is very old for tennis but very young for life,” said Petkovic, who describes herself as thoughtful, outgoing and happy. “So I feel like my experience helps me to point my thoughts in the right direction a little better and also cope with losses better afterwards and just to manage, you know, to direct things in the right direction overall.
“It’s always an up and down and it’s always a process, but I feel like I’m heading towards the right direction for at least now. Let’s see,” she said.
Reading and writing
Although Petkovic is a tennis player at heart, unlike most of her fellow pros she’s developed a number of interests off the court to stay busy, such as writing. She writes for an hour or two each day – in multiple languages – and also enjoys art, culture, music, literature, politics, and going to see films. She also plays the guitar and feels as much at ease discussing Freud and Goethe as she does talking about the plight of Serena Williams’s comeback from maternity leave or the success of the Zverev brothers back home in Germany.
“Writing helps me a lot to structure my thoughts better – it’s a little less confusing in my head – so, it’s a little less of a horror show,” Petkovic said with a hint of laughter in her voice. “So, it’s actually been helping me a lot in terms of what I want after my career and relaxing me, and also, just for now, it makes me realize that I still want this very much.”
On top of everything else vying for her time and attention, Petkovic is an avid reader. She’s usually seen juggling both a non-fiction and fiction book at a time, whether in the solitude of her hotel room while she’s on tour competing or hanging out in trendy cafes in tour cities like Miami. She’s currently reading a biography about former U.S. President Barack Obama as well as a novel that’s set in upstate New York. She counts Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace and the recently-deceased Phillip Roth among her favorite authors. “You can really appreciate the style and see the intelligence of those people,” she said.
Asked how her literary interests relate to tennis, Petkovic didn’t shy away from answering the reporter’s question during a press conference earlier this week after she beat Mattek-Sands. “Actually, the biography of Barack Obama is super interesting, because it’s a really good biography.
“What I find interesting is how he really was very pragmatic. People tend to see this kind of persona the media made of him, but he was very pragmatic. And, he really worked on his weaknesses. He wasn’t that charismatic guy to begin with, but he worked on his skills.
“I thought that this was really interesting that this is something you can actually learn or – well, there are a few things that also he had inside of him, but he really managed to learn and improve. And, that was very interesting to me, because I kind of took it for granted that he’s just this charismatic person that all of a sudden appeared and everybody loved him.”
Columns and creative writing
Petkovic, who was born in the former Yugoslavia before moving to Germany, is fluent in German, English, Serbian and French. A typical press conference for her includes taking questions in English, French and German. Currently, she’s a contributor for the new American literary quarterly Racquet, which includes articles about tennis, art, fashion, history and culture, and recently, she started penning a weekly column, “30-Love” for the German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung about her life on the tour and about her special hobby: movies. Both of her assignments suit her intellectual curiosity.
Her first story for Racquet allowed her to explore and compare rivalries in tennis – think Federer versus Nadal – to rivalries in modern art such as between Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning. Meanwhile, in her most recent essay for Racquet, entitled “Tennis Meets Tennis,” about touring the American southwest aboard a bus with the husband and wife dream-pop band Tennis, Petkovic wrote, “I’ve decided to do this because I have a hunger for throwing myself into the art world, the music world, the TV and movie world. I’m obsessed with contemporary culture in the widest sense. Are we tennis players part of it? Does experiencing an extraordinary intensity of emotion in your day-to-day job place you outside of conventional reality? And if it does, why do I try to understand it, why can’t I just accept it as it is? That’s why I’m here.”
Petkovic hinted that one day she might like to try writing a novel. “I wouldn’t write about tennis,” she warned. “No, I would pick something else!” However, it might include tennis metaphors. “But then, if you study it carefully, you would maybe realize that it’s about tennis. … I would have to think about it. Then, you realize, when I’m dead, posthumously, people would find my notes and realize, ‘oh my God, it was about the WTA Tour!'”
Lively press conferences
Win or lose, Petkovic’s press conferences are lively and informative, and they often cover a wide range of topics. She likes the interaction she has with other writers and reporters, such as Ben Rothenberg, a tennis correspondent for The New York Times, and Courtney Nguyen, a senior writer and podcaster for the WTA Tour’s website. From both, who are also editors with Racquet, Petkovic has learned what is needed to be a good reporter.
“You guys depend a lot of other people,” said Petkovic. “I realize as a writer, my columns are different because I depend on my experiences, but when I write reportage about something, you kind of depend on people opening up a little bit and giving you an insight in their heads to make it a good story. You can make a story about anything but to make it a good story you have to depend on people inside.”
Topics that arise in an Andrea Petkovic press conference: Barack Obama, David Foster Wallace, and the etymology of ‘double-edged sword’.
As you do. #RG18
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) 31. Mai 2018
Recently, Petkovic joked that “everyone knows I’ve got a lot going on upstairs, a lot of thoughts.” So, it only seemed natural for her to be asked if she thought that tennis players sometimes can have too much going on upstairs – to be too intellectual?
“I think there are two sides of it,” she replied. Then, she broke it down. “On the court itself, it’s better to have as little thoughts as possible and try to be in the moment and sort of find the Zen-like state of mind. I think that’s the best for on court.
“But I think off court my mind has helped me in tremendous ways just because I was able to be really good in my analysis and analyze where I went wrong and what I could do better.
“So, these little things, I think a strong mind can also help you – or a lot of thoughts can also help you if you manage to put in some structure into it and have people that guide you in a good direction.
“So it’s a two-sided sword. Is that an expression?” Told that it’s a double-edge sword that she meant to say, she quipped, “That’s what I was going for. I knew something sounded off. It was something with a sword and Middle Ages and a lot of knights.” Another stream of consciousness for Petkovic has taken flight and we’re along for the ride of a lifetime.
Although she’s never won a Grand Slam title or even reached the finals of one, Petkovic believes the quality of her life’s experiences are all about curiosity. She said, “I’m very curious about life and other people. And I want to delve into it and experience it all.”