Linda Robertson

Linda Robertson: Andrea Petkovic is ‘Most Interesting Woman’ in tennis

Andrea Petkovic reacts after a point against Karolina Pliskova at the Miami Open on Tuesday, March 31, 2015.
Andrea Petkovic reacts after a point against Karolina Pliskova at the Miami Open on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. El Nuevo Herald

She wields drum sticks with as much verve as she swings a tennis racket.

She reads David Foster Wallace when she is not deconstructing her opponent’s serve.

She visits the Louvre after an ugly loss to rediscover beauty.

She directs and stars in videos satirizing herself and her fellow athletes.

She is: The Most Interesting Woman in the tennis world.

Her name: Andrea Petkovic. Learn it, if you haven’t already. Miami and the entire sport are fortunate to have her on a winning streak. The goofy intellectual is as interesting to listen to as she is to watch.

Petkovic delighted her devoted fans again Tuesday by advancing to the semifinals of the Miami Open with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Karolina Pliskova, then answering their clamor by performing her traditional “Petko dance” victory jig.

Perhaps it’s the heat and noise and general unzipped unrest of Miami, but 10th-ranked Petkovic, who was raised in Germany by Serbian parents, tends to play well here. She hasn’t lost a set in four matches, four years after she was a semifinalist at Crandon Park.

“I think the thing with Miami for me is that I am naturally a very uptight person when it comes to my job — I’m just a very stiff German,” she said. “In my personal life I’m total opposite. I love having fun and dancing and joking around and doing fun stuff, but in my job, I’m very straightforward and disciplined.

“Miami kind of relaxes me. I don’t know, maybe because it’s kind of crazy and chaotic. These two opposites, they sort of mesh into a balance that’s good for me, I guess. I have the same in Paris where I also feel very comfortable.”

Athletes are perpetually searching for the ideal balance during competition, when they must combine intensity and serenity, concentration and instinct, control and abandon. The ability to tread that fine line separates the best from the rest.

Alexandr Dolgopolov lived in the special zone when he beat No. 1 Novak Djokovic 7-6 in the first set Tuesday, then vacated it completely when he lost the third set 6-0. Petkovic found her zone when she fought back from 15-40 at 4-4 in the first set against Pliskova to win five games in a row. She said she was overanalyzing her serve and decided to “just throw the ball up and hit it, and if it goes in, good for you.”

It looks so effortless when tennis players are slamming aces and basketball players are swishing three-pointers, but we don’t see the game within a game causing constant conflict inside their heads.

“There are players, when you see them hitting the ball, you wonder why they are not in the top 10, and then you cannot even find them in the top 100,” Petkovic said. “It’s such a difference between practice and matches and being able to find the right balance for yourself.”

She mentioned uninhibited Frenchman Gael Monfils “who is very relaxed and who can maybe use some of my uptightness.” Her idols are two players of differing demeanor on the court.

“Steffi Graf, who is the stereotype German, and Serena Williams, who is probably the opposite — not of a German but who is that rebellious, rock ‘n’ roll type of tennis player who brought new energy,” said Petkovic, 27. “Steffi Graf, who was so disciplined and so controlled emotionally. I admire both of them.

“I wish I could just have 5 percent of either one.”

She said she struggles to find the right mix of her “fiery” Serbian side and her “perfectionist” German side, and when she thinks too much, “it’s horrific to watch” and engulfs her in a “full-body cramp.”

“To bring the relaxed, outgoing girl that I am in my personal life into my tennis life is maybe the key for me to be playing well,” she said.

Petkovic certainly tries to keep her peers relaxed — and her fans laughing. She’s known for her Petkorazzi videos, starring her alter ego. In one, she dresses up as a Turkish man and sings a Turkish song. In another, demonstrating her dislike of golf, she attacks a golfer as James Bond movie theme music plays.

She’s also a hysterical Backstreet Boys groupie, complete with pigtails, screaming and getting her chest autographed by a band member. She declares that she “would trade my tennis life for being a rock drummer,” then displays her skills on a drum set. She also conducted a “Top Model” competition among players on the men’s tour, using a hotel hallway as fashion runway.

In an interview with Djokovic, she asks if their video will “bring peace to the world.”

“More than that,” Djokovic responds without missing a beat, with his like-minded impeccable Serbian sense of humor. “I think it will stop global warming.”

Petkovic likes to visit art museums on her world travels and recently bought a piece by Swedish artist Jacob Fellander. Now that she’s made the semifinals, she thinks she can afford to buy a painting by a French Impressionist she’s got her eye on.

This Renaissance woman reads Goethe, Flaubert and Wilde, listens to Bloc Party and Drake, watches Javier Bardem and Edward Norton.

Petkovic’s career was interrupted by injuries in 2008 and 2012, but last year she won three tournaments and achieved her career-best Grand Slam result by reaching the French Open semifinals.

And when she retires? Filmmaker? Gallery owner? Novelist? Petkovic said she’ll confront the same dichotomy she has had during her life as a tennis player.

“I would love to be something creative,” she said. “But I guess I would just be a boring lawyer.”

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments