PARIS -- No. 28 Andrea Petkovic completely shut down No. 10 Sara Errani with a 6-2, 6-2 win in the quarterfinals of the French Open on Wednesday, advancing to her first-ever Grand Slam semifinal.
The 26-year-old German went on a tear after losing the first two games of the match, but she then reeled off six straight games to seal the first set, and then continued her aggressive return game that left Errani defenseless. Petkovic will play No. 4 Simona Halep in the semifinals on Thursday.
"I have to say today I was in a real zone," Petkovic said. "I didn't think at all. I was just focused on what I had to do. Mentally I was really good.When it was 6‑2, 5‑2 I sat down and I said to myself, 'OK, Andrea, are you going to get tight now?' And I paused and I said, 'No, not now.'"
It's been a long road back to relevance for Petkovic, who briefly thought about leaving the game this time last year after a bad loss at Roland Garros which dropped her to No. 138 in the world. But by reaching the semifinals now, she's projected to return to the top 20 for the first time since August 2012.
Here's what you need to know about the woman they call "Petkorazzi":
She's Bosnian-born, German-raised: Her father is Serbian and her mother is German, but she was born in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her Serbian connections means she's good friends with Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. She plays doubles with the latter two frequently and loves joking around with Djokovic. Here's a video they did together:
Her father Goran played tennis for the University of South Carolina. Earlier this year, she told this story of her father's time in the U.S.:
"He said when he came here was it 80s, late 70s or 80s maybe and everybody was wearing cowboy boots, and he said he had never seen that in his life, and blue jeans. And so the first thing when he had some money he bought blue jeans and cowboy boots and he was so happy. He's so vain. He thinks he's the most beautiful guy in the world.
"And so the only thing that he was looking forward to, coming back to Yugoslavia and rocking his blue jeans and his cowboy boots, and so he was in a train. I don't know where he landed, but he was in a train and he forgot both, the blue jeans and the cowboy boots so he came back and he had nothing. And this is why vanity is one of the seven deadly sins."
In 2011 she became the first German to crack the top 10 since Steffi Graf: Petkovic had her breakout year in 2011, when she made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, French Open and U.S. Open, and finished the year ranked No. 10.
Injuries have derailed her career: "Derailed her career" is an understatement. In her Australian Open debut in 2008, Petkovic went down with a horrible knee injury just a few points into the match. After her big 2011 season she tore ligaments in her ankle the following April in a match in Stuttgart and didn't return until August. Five months later she suffered a meniscus tear at an exhibition event in Australia and her ranking dropped outside the top 150. She'll be back into the top 20 after her current run in Paris.
She contemplated quitting the game this time last year: With her ranking having dropped outside the top 100 last year, Petkovic found herself in the qualifying tournament at Roland Garros. She lost in the second round to No. 156 Yi-Miao Zhou 6-7 (1), 7-6 (2), 6-4, and started to think she would never regain her prior form.
"It wasn't because I had lost in second round against some player that was ranked 160," she said. "It wasn't about that. It was just I didn't like playing anymore. I hated it. I was putting so much pressure on myself to getting back where I was, and it wasn't fun anymore. I was just forcing. Everything was work and hard. You know, it wasn't what it was, why I started playing tennis. I started playing tennis because I love it, and it's a big part of my life. It brought so much to me and my family. I think it brings so many people together, and it's a nice, a beautiful thing, and it's not something that is ugly and hard and difficult."
Thankfully she won an ITF level tournament in Marseille the following week and then made the final of Nurnberg the week after that, losing to Halep, her semifinal opponent on Thursday. She finished the season inside the top 40 and won the biggest title of her career in April at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston.
She's the most well-read woman on tour: The last time I caught up with Petkovic in Charleston she was reading The Count of Monte Cristo and was getting ready to start David Foster Wallace's epic tome Infinite Jest. She says she's always reading one fiction book and one non-fiction book and she shuns E-readers in favor of the real thing. "I have two favorite authors," she told reporters this week. "One is Goethe, [who] is, for me, the greatest genius with words. Unfortunately, if you cannot speak German, it's not so easy to appreciate that. And David Foster Wallace is the other one that I just started reading actually a couple of months ago and I'm totally amazed by him. I think he's one of the greatest.
"Philosopher‑wise, Friedrich Nietzsche is the one that impressed me most. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says and it's very dark and sad, but he was a good writer, too. I actually really liked the existentialists in French. I read a lot of Sartre and Camus."
And in case you're wondering, Petkovic tries to read everything in both the original language and German.
She's a feminist and she's not afraid to say so: Some women don't like to use the F-word, but Petkovic isn't one of them. Just this week she called out a journalist for asking why there seemed to be more mental breakdowns in the women's game than in the men's. She gushed her admiration for Billie Jean King and the WTA's Original Nine earlier this year: "I'm a huge feminist myself and I really believe in the independence of women and the strength and the power of women, not women's tennis, just women in general," she said. "I'm grateful that there were these women before us that fought the fight for us and we're just having this comfortable life 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."
She's one of the best Twitter follows in tennis: Irreverent, witty, and just flat-out funny, you can follow her at @andreapetkovic.
Running through a park in Rome on a rainy morning. Yoga next to a rosebush. This is as romantic as it's gonna get for me these days.
— Andrea Petkovic (@andreapetkovic) May 13, 2014
I'm really jealous of Kim Sears' hair. REALLY jealous. And yes, I had to google "jealous" to spell it right.
— Andrea Petkovic (@andreapetkovic) July 7, 2013
So apparently it doesn't make sense to watch the 1st episode of season's 3 "Game Of Thrones" when you haven't watched seasons 1 & 2. #HBO
— Andrea Petkovic (@andreapetkovic) April 5, 2013
I was all: What's with the dragons? Oh, it's summer! Now it's winter? Swords! Crows! Sure it's not braveheart? I'm on a boat.
— Andrea Petkovic (@andreapetkovic) April 5, 2013
She used to dance. Now she doesn't: Petkovic made a bet with her coach before her first match at the 2010 U.S. Open that if she won she'd dance on court. She rallied to beat Nadia Petrova in a third-set tiebreaker and sure enough, she danced. That little jig became known as "The Petko Dance" and at the request of fans she would do it after every win.
But Petkovic hasn't danced for a while now and she's trying to put the dance behind her. "It sort of got out of hand, because sometimes I played bad matches [and] I didn't feel like dancing. But people were coming just to see the dance. They were like, Andrea, dance, dance. Then I sort of did it to [not] disappoint the people. It wasn't the thing it used to be. It wasn't a happy, spontaneous thing. It was something I needed to do somehow, and that was not what it was all about. I was 20 when I did it, or 21. So now I'm old. I'm moving straight towards the 30s. Can't be dancing when you're 30 anymore."
Her alter-ego, "Petkorazzi" was a viral video hit: Before she hit it big and became a top player, Petkovic would amuse herself during the season by filming and editing funny videos about her life on tour, that morphed into just surreal quasi-sketch comedy. You can see them all here, but here's a sample:
She's a poet and a writer, but you probably won't be reading any of it soon: During her injury layoffs, Petkovic toyed with the idea of doing more writing, and she dabbles in poetry. "Anybody who has ever written a poem feels like fricking good at that time, and I'm writing a poem, and I'm like I'm a genius, why has nobody discovered me," she said. "And then when I read it back a month later, I realize how bad I suck, actually. And then I forbid myself of writing for the next three months, and then you know, I get this kind of emotional phase where I have to express myself. And then again, s----- poetry comes out."