Andrea Petkovic: Finally, a female star with strings to her bow
Her family fled the Balkans after a bomb hit her grandparents' house; she wants to form a political party and plays the drums
Sunday 20 February 2011
The Women's Tennis Association compiled a promotional video last week asking players to describe their perfect Valentine's Day date. Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic were among those who talked about flowers, chocolates, romantic meals and strolls on the beach. Then we heard from Andrea Petkovic. "I hate Valentine's Day," the 23-year-old German said. "It's too 'pinky girlie' for me. My perfect date would probably be to go to a concert, jump around a little bit and then go and have a beer."
You never know quite what to expect from Petkovic, who has emerged as one of the great characters on the women's tour. She is world No 24 after beating Maria Sharapova en route to her first Grand Slam quarter-final at last month's Australian Open, but tennis is just one of the strings to her bow.
A political science student who lists the people she most admires as "Goethe (genius in writing) and Che Guevara (genius in fighting)", she talks of forming her own political party and of becoming a journalist. She records music with her friends – she plays drums and guitar – and has quickly attracted a cult following for an off-the-wall video blog under her online persona of "Petkorazzi". Among her recent postings is a film showing how to perform the "Petko Dance", a victory jig she performs on court.
Born in Bosnia to Serbian parents, Petkovic and her family moved to Germany at the start of the Balkan wars. Their home was in Tuzla, where one bomb struck her grandparents' house, although nobody was injured. Petkovic's father, a coach and former player, was working in Germany when war broke out, which meant his family could join him in Darmstadt, where she has been based ever since. Petkovic herself has a German passport.
"I always say that the way I think and act and structure my life is very German," Petkovic said last week here at the Dubai Duty Free Championships. "I get along well with all the Serb players and they always say to me: 'You're more German than the Germans!'
"But I consider myself to have a big Serbian heart, because I'm more emotional than Germans usually are. I have a big temper, though I try to control it. I hang around a lot with the Serbs at tournaments because they are somehow a little more easy-going, although I'm also very good friends with the German girls."
Although she quickly showed a talent for tennis, Petkovic was also successful academically and had been uncertain about a sporting career. Enrolling for a correspondence course in political science – she is now in her third year – helps keep her options open. "I follow the news and I read political books anyway, so studying political science was what came to my mind," she said.
"A lot of people ask me: 'Which party are you rooting for and who are you voting for?' I always say there is no party that actually represents what I or many people around me think. I feel young people's problems are not being represented. In Germany young people only get contracts for work for, say, two, three or six months, so they can't start a family because they don't have the financial security.
"We have 20 million pensioners right now and I feel like the parties are only making politics for the people who are going to vote. I feel there is this circle of people and friends around me who are not being represented. I would really like to raise attention for this. Maybe it's by forming a political party or maybe forming a youth magazine for politics."
Petkovic admires Barack Obama for combining idealism with pragmatism, while her favourite politician of all time and her "hero for ever" is Helmut Schmidt, German Chancellor from 1974 to 1982. "His own party kicked him out because he stayed true to himself," she said. "Now everybody adores him."
With plans to quit tennis after the 2016 Olympics, Petkovic is thinking of a career in journalism before moving into politics. She has her eyes on a place at the Henri Nannen School in Hamburg, where many of Germany's best journalists have trained, and would also like to try her hand at TV, working in current affairs rather than commenting on backhands and forehands. She is gaining experience in front of the camera through her video blogging under the guise of Petkorazzi, a play on her own name and paparazzi. Her highly amusing videos are starting to feature other players, Novak Djokovic and John Isner having made appearances.
Djokovic took a starring role in a video filmed at last month's Australian Open. Petkovic asks him who he would like to be if he could be anyone in the world. "Of course Petkorazzi," he says. "She's the prettiest, the best and by far the best-looking on the court." Petkovic responds by saying she has "just put 100,000 on you". The clip ends with Petkovic reaching into her pocket and handing over a sheaf of bank notes.
"When I watch tennis I always see those serious, ambitious faces fighting for each point," she said. "When I talk to the players off the court, they are just as fun and as entertaining as other young people of the same age. I just try to bring that side out of tennis players, to bring some fun to it."
Music plays a big part in Petkovic's life. She says that playing the drums helps with her co-ordination on the court, while a friend has adapted the lyrics of one of his songs to provide a soundtrack to the Petko Dance, which made its first appearance at last year's US Open. "It was a bet with my coach," Petkovic (below) said. "I was playing so badly in the US last summer and then I drew Nadia Petrova in the first round of the US Open. It was obviously a very tough draw. My coach said: 'OK, if you win, you have to do something special.' I said: 'What's special?' He said: 'You have to do a victory dance.' When I won, that was the first thing that came into my mind, the winning dance. Ever since it's been following me around. I don't do it after every win. I just look at people and see how they react. If they start to dance, I do."
Some critics suggest that Petkovic might be a better player if she spent less time on her off-court pursuits. "I always tell them that if I wasn't doing these things I would never be this good. I'm the kind of person who needs to train not only my body but also my mind and my spirit."
Petkovic believes her extra-curricular interests mean that she does not make the mistake of over-analysing her game. "Sometimes you just have to go with your intuition and go with what feels right," she said. "I try to put my thinking into my studying and into things off-court and to black it out when I play tennis."
She is not setting herself any targets in tennis but believes she still has huge scope for improvement. "I was pleased with my performance in Melbourne, but afterwards all the German reporters were asking me whether it was the tournament of my life," Petkovic said. "I replied: 'No, I want to achieve much more than just the quarter-finals. This is just the start'."
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