You guys! Can we just take a minute and talk about Andrea Petkovic and how freaking amazing and inspiring it is that, after all she has been through, she is into her first major semifinal at this French Open?
Truthfully, it’s almost too much.
I mean, let’s look back at her string of bad luck again. In 2008, when she had just broken into the top 100, she fell in her first-round match at the Australian Open against Anna Chakvetatdze and suffered a ligament rupture in her right knee. It kept her off of the tour for eight months.
By 2011 she had found her way to the top 10 and made the quarterfinals of three out of the four majors. She was playing the best, most consistent tennis of her career. Then 2012 happened. 2012 sucked.
Back problems at the beginning of 2012–a double stress fracture of her spine and a spinal disc herniation to be exact–caused her to miss the Australian Open and the next three months of the season. She came back in April, only to roll her ankle in her second match in Stuttgart, hear everything crack, and be forced to miss the French Open, Wimbledon, and Olympics. (Click with caution. Brutal.)
She came back at the New Haven Open and finally picked up some momentum at the end of the year, only to pull out of Hopman Cup (in the final days of 2012) with a ruptured meniscus in her her knee. She had to have surgery in January, and she was off of the tour until March.
Depressing, right? Yeah.
Anyways, now, a year after contemplating retirement when she lost in the second round of quallies at Roland Garros, here she is in the semifinals. She was flawless in her quarterfinal match against Sara Errani on Wednesday, and now only Simona Halep stands between Petko and a major final. Pretty incredible.
But you guys knew that.
I used to not love Petko. I thought the dancing and the Petkorazzi videos were all a bit hokey. I thought it was a schtick. I was wrong.
I don’t get to cover many tournaments in person, but I have been lucky that the last two WTA tournaments I’ve attended as media–the 2013 Citi Open and this year’s Family Circle Cup–have had a healthy dose of Petko. Because it’s in press where I really began to admire her as an athlete and a person.
There is something so genuine about Petkovic in press conferences, which is very rare. I don’t blame most athletes for being guarded and a bit aloof in press–it’s an awkward situation. But Petko is completely present when talking to everyone. She cares about questions and gives thoughtful answers. She’s engaged, personable, funny, and open–and if she can be that way with crazy strangers in the media, it’s hard not to believe that she’s like that with everyone.
(Did I mention that she calls it like she sees it?)
"That's sexist." -Andrea Petkovic, calling out a reporter who said mental breakdowns were more common in women's tennis. Good on her. #RG14
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 2, 2014
I guess what I’m saying is that the fun attitude and friendliness that I used to see as a bit of a performance are anything but–she’s just a truly lovely person.
The press conferences at Charleston were particularly great. Sometimes there’s just a nice mix of journalists, staff, and setup that make for great conversation, and the Family Circle Cup certainly had all of those factors this year. I’ve been meaning to do a post sharing some of my favorite Petko quotes from those press conferences, but since life is crazy and I haven’t yet, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to finally do so.
Without further adieu, Andrea Petkovic.
On the WTA, feminism, and the importance of the original nine:
I think we can’t thank them enough. I’m a huge feminist myself and I really believe in the independence of women and the strength and the power of women–not [only] women’s tennis, just women in general. I am so grateful that there were these women before us that fought the fight for us and we’re just having this comfortable life, you know, and sort of sitting in a bed that’s been already made for us. The only thing that I can do is just appreciate it and thank them every time I see them. And I just feel a huge respect when I see Billie Jean King and the others.
On whether there’s work left to do for the WTA:
Yeah. I think so. I think so. I don’t think there’s ever going to be an end to this story. I think it’s just a consistent journey that is there and that we have to [work] each day…I get it that the men, I guess are bigger stars, but then again, Maria and Serena and Venus, they are crossover pop stars. I think it’s just a matter of not being afraid of [accepting] the attention and being proud of the attention that we get, because I think the girls do an amazing job every day, and they fight their hearts out out there, and they try their best to be out there and strong and powerful and giving an example to little girls.
So I think there is still a lot to be done, but then again, we are trying every day, and just trying to, you know, to be a good role model and idol for the little girls out there.
On how her injuries have made her a more complete player:
Well, I think just generally I got technically much better after my injuries. You always have to see the good and the bad somehow, and the good thing about my injuries was that I knew I couldn’t rely on my fitness only after all these injuries, because I wasn’t able to practice as much as I used to before, so I needed to develop technically, and I needed to develop my game.
I needed to improve my serve. And I needed to have more variety if I was wanting to be able to win the big titles or be back where I was. I couldn’t be relying on my fitness only anymore like I used to before. And so I made these changes, and I changed coaches, and I worked on it very hard and tried to become more of a tennis player and not only a tennis worker, you know, and I think there’s still a long way to go for me, and I still have a lot of potential to improve it, but I think I’m on the right track, and that’s my big goal for the next years is becoming more of a player and less of a worker.
On finding a balance between perspective and urgency in the late stages of her career:
I don’t have a balance. (Laughs). I told Courtney in Indian Wells after my loss against Giorgi, I was in bed for the next 48 hours, and I didn’t move, and I didn’t text anybody back, and I was just depressed.
So I guess I’m still looking for a balance, you know. And I just try to not let it get to me that much, but then again there are just these losses that hurt so much, especially in the big tournaments and Grand Slams against players you don’t want to lose to because you have already lost to them. There are so many factors that are playing a role.
But for me, now with the urgency of my late stages in the career–I’ve lost so many years with my injuries and also beginning quite late. So for me each loss is very difficult to handle, but I just try to sort of keep perspective and just sort of appreciate that I’m back, that I’m back at all and that I’m not injured and that I’m healthy and that I’m playing. So I just have to every time tell myself, it’s okay, just keep going. It might come back, it might not, but let’s just stay positive.
Keep being awesome, Petkovic. Keep standing up for women and pushing for a better future for the WTA. And please, for the love of God, stay healthy.
**Some answers have been edited for clarity.