Guest Mailbag: Andrea Petkovic on her top reading list, coaches, life on tour
This week, Jon Wertheim handed over the keys to the SI Tennis Mailbag to Andrea Petkovic who is in Stanford for the Bank of the West Classic. The 27-year-old is ranked No. 17 in the WTA Rankings, has won six titles on her career and in 2011, the Bosnian-born German became the first of her country to crack the top 10 since Steffi Graf. She's known for her outgoing personality, a little jig dubbed the "Petko Dance" and her witty Twitter account and on-court antics like this.
Petkovic took some time after her matches in Stanford to answer readers' questions in this week's Mailbag:
It has been over one month since you have had any interaction on Twitter. Are you planning a comeback tweet?
I always take sort of a sabbatical of Twitter one month in the year so on Tuesday the one month was over. I’m not sure yet if I’m going to come back but I’m considering it. I’m not sure yet. It was nice to get off social media. I was on Instagram a little but I was really quite because I only have 2,000 followers. It’s been really quiet and I’ve enjoyed it, I have to admit. So I’m considering it, but I’m not 100% sure. I definitely will come back, but I’m just not sure if it will be right now.
From what I've read, you’re having a hard time finding a coach. I'd like to know: What kind of coach would be ideal for you?
Well now I have a pretty ideal coach. But the thing for me is I need to be challenged intellectually and I think that’s the toughest part for me to find. But right now I am really happy with Boris and my dad will come to the U.S. Open, so we’ll see what happens.
What would you say is the hardest thing about being a professional tennis player?
—Jeff, Los Angeles
I think it’s just the week by week, that the season is so long and you have to be ready and mentally stable each and every week. I think everybody has his ups and downs trying to perform physically every week, with all of the travel. It’s really tiring and can be draining but I love what I do, so it’s just a little complaint in a really nice environment.
What is your favorite place to vacation?
Probably Paris. I love cities and I did a weekend in Paris this week and it was really nice. I also was in Greece and that was really great because the people were super friendly. And I once did a trip through Portugal and that was also great. I do prefer to stay in Europe—I was in Thailand and other places and I loved it as well—but I do prefer to stay closer and connected to Europe. I love places that have a great history and being closer to my friends and family is why I love Europe.
Why do so many female players grunt and shriek so loudly and why don't the "quieter" players speak out more?
For me its not a problem, I have to say. When I play I don’t look over to the other side, I don’t hear the people grunting. I think everybody just needs to do what’s best for them and if you feel that grunting helps you, go ahead. And I think every player should be focused on themselves and not try to find excuses.
Can you describe what it is like to play against Serena? Is that different from being on the other side of the net against another players?
—Ben B, Brooklyn
I think the most difficult part against Serena is the fact that when she’s serving well you really have the pressure of playing the points in the rally really well, and then you sometimes go for too much. In the rally—well, I wouldn’t say it’s OK, she plays super well and her ball is really heavy—but you can play with her. What she does incredibly well is she opens up the court tremendously well and she uses all of the angles on the court and then goes for her shots when you give her a short ball. And she’s obviously a presence. But like I said I try to focus on myself. But she definitely has a presence around her, with all of those titles.
Sometimes life on the tour looks like high school never ended (petty squabbles and whatnot.) Do you agree/disagree?
If it’s a girls’ school, maybe! High school was pretty fun for me—well, I was never there because I was always traveling and playing tournaments. But my best friends I have now are all from high school and we’ve gone through great experiences. So I can’t really agree with that because when I look back I was a teenager during high school and I was a totally different person that I am now. And I think the same goes for most of the other players as well.
Do you have a preference for either the WTA or the ATP point values for tournaments? ATP uses easy even values of 1000, 500, and 250 for points awarded to tournament champions. The WTA has 1000, 900, 470, and 280. Why? A grand slam runner-up in the ATP gets 1200 points, and a grand slam runner-up in the WTA gets 1300. Why? Does this affect the rankings?
I really have no idea—I don’t look at points or rankings count. When I play well I get the rankings points. I think it’s pretty fair. I can always tell when I played well and won a tournament or when I reached further rounds in the Grand Slams I’m always up in the rankings. And when I play badly and I lose it goes down. So I guess its fair.
I was said to see that Juan Martin Del Potro split with his coach Franco Davin. They have been together for so long and seemed very close. It did make me wonder, if a player is injured and isn't playing then what does the coach do during that time? Are they being paid? I'm sure players and coaches make arrangements during this time but otherwise, I'm surprised that players and coaches don't split up more often during long term injury breaks.
—Beth, Brooklyn, NY
That’s actually a good question. It depends on the contract you have with your coach. When I was injured I talked to my coach at the time, Petar Popovic, and told him he should coach other players because I was out for a very long time. And he did. He coached a few other players but he returned to me when I started playing again. But it is a tricky situation. That’s the downside of our sport—we are not protected by clubs like in soccer, where the club covers you when you’re injured and you still get your salary and the coach is protected. So its kind of tricky but that’s the risky part of our job, I guess.
Are you really working with Becker? If yes, what are you looking to improve?
I don’t know how that came up, it’s not true at all. The only thing I said was that I picked his brain during Wimbledon a few times. I asked him a few questions and he answered, and so that helped me tremendously. But I’ve never worked with him and I mean—he’s with Djokovic. It’s obvious we are not working together!
What is your favorite Grand Slam and why?
That’s easy—my favorite Grand Slam is the French Open. I love Paris, I love France and French culture. And I really feel very connected to them, the writers, the history. I’ve always been sort of Francophile, I would say. And I played in the semifinals in Roland Garros, so that’s always a huge plus, and it was my first Grand Slam ever. I played the qualies there and it was like my first love—you never forget you first love.
Would you ever consider the return of the post-match Petko dance?
Probably not, just because it got so out of hand. For me, it was just meant to be a sign of happiness. I wanted it to be spontaneous and then I felt obliged to do it all the time. Then people misunderstood it and thought I was mocking my opponent, which is totally ridiculous. And I don’t want to be in a position to have to explain myself all the time when I do something, so probably not.
What's your favorite cheese and why?
I would said gouda and mozzarella. Just the simple cheese. I’m not crazy. I try to avoid lactose, so I’m going for goat cheese most of the time. But I love the gouda and I love the mozzarella and I still sneak it in every now and then.
What is your favorite place to go (other than to family) when you're back in Germany?
My favorite place in Germany is Berlin, I have a lot of friends there and my cousin goes there and I try to go there everytime I have a weekend off, I just fly over there. For me, its just one of the most vibrant cities in Germany and probably in the world. And I am a huge art lover and there are great artists and they have all of these crazy galleries and hidden art. So every now and then I go and check them out and try to find the new artwork. And good nightlife. And pretty boys. You should go! No really—I think most handsome guys in the city. I don’t know why that is but really, really good looking guys there.
If you could play mixed doubles with anybody, who would it be?
If I could choose, I think with Andy Murray. Because he’s a feminist and I appreciate that.
Is there anywhere that you'd really like to play that the WTA doesn't have an event in?
I would really like to go to South America. I’ve only been in Costa Rica and Mexico and doesn’t really count as South America, its Middle America. They have Bogota and Brazil, but it’s always in a weird part of the schedule when there is Fed Cup, so for me its always difficult to play there. But I think it would be really nice to have a few more tournaments in, let’s say, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina. I’ve never been to Argentina—Buenos Aires, I think that would be really cool.
If you could invite any three people (living or dead) to dinner who would they be?
Hemingway. David Foster Wallace. And Simone de Beauvoir.
If you weren't a tennis player, only a fan, which players would you cheer for? Both men and women players.
If I was a tennis fan—well, I’m kind of a tennis fan! I always cheer for the girls that I am friends with—so Angie Kerber, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, the German girls obviously. And on the guys side, I always cheer for Rafa, especially now after his comeback. Because I feel like he’s a great fighter. I always cheer for Murray. It always changes—when Roger was winning everything, I was rooting for the other guy to have a go at the Grand Slam. And now that he’s playing so great, I cheer for him every time. And Novak, obviously, because we are friends. So I kind of cheer for everybody. It’s always difficult to put yourself in the position, because you know them and you know they are nice people, and you sort of don’t want anybody to lose.
If I didn’t know anybody, I would probably cheer for Azarenka and Gulbis. Azarenka for her game and Gulbis because he’s kind of crazy. I think I would like that as a fan.
Top 10 reading list for a fan?
I always put it No. 1 because it was the first book that hooked me, and it’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German writer. No. 2: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Amazing book. No. 3 I would put War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It’s just a classic and it’s really good to learn about the Russian culture. No. 4 I would put Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Really good book as well and you learn so much about whale fishing, it’s crazy. No. 5 I would go with The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. It was one of the first feministic books and she’s very intelligent. No. 6 I would put IQ84 by Haruki Murakami. No. 7 I would put The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, another German author. It’s a great book—it’s a really annoying book, you get pissed at all of the characters. No. 8 I would go with Le Mur from Jean-Paul Sartre, just to get into the existentialist stuff. No. 9 Hemingway, Old Man of the Sea. Although all of the Hemingway books are good. And No. 10 I have to put one Serbian author in too. The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric.
What has been your favorite tournament so far?
I really love Charleston. It’s just a beautiful tournament. I just feel very comfortable there. I won once and I played semifinals last year. So I always play well there.
If you could invite three people to dinner, dead or alive, who would you make sure was dead?
I only pick dead people. So they’re all dead!
Is it true that you reached out to Steffi Graf for being your coach? What makes her a good coach? Can you still approach her for suggestions if she can't be a full time coach?
Well I asked her if she would be willing to help me or if she could imagine herself being a coach. I didn’t ask her straightly if she wanted to coach me. But she immediately said she would not want to travel. A few times I was in Las Vegas and I practiced with her there and she gave me great tips. You just listen to somebody that has won Grand Slams. You just listen to them differently. And you feel like they can connect with you and your fears and pressures.
What are you currently reading?
Currently I am reading Ivo Andric. And I’m reading a collection of interviews by the Paris Review, which was a magazine for literature in Paris during the ‘60s and ‘70s. They have amazing interviews with all of the writers in the world. And it’s very interesting to read about their methods, work ethic and where they get their inspiration.