- World No. 91 Andrea Petkovic gives insight into life on tour, shares her book recommendations and admits to an unexpected celebrity crush.
Editor's note: World No. 91 and 10-year tour veteran Andrea Petkovic was kind enough to take some time off from her U.S. Open preparation to fill in for Jon Wertheim in this week's mailbag. She's known for her passion for literature, a little jig dubbed the "Petko Dance", her witty Twitter account and on-court antics like this. Below you'll find her answers to a broad range of questions, which span from life on tour to Nick Kyrgios to book recommendations to an unexpected celebrity crush.
Did you buy a new computer?
I have not. It's weird, I‘m the most generous person when it comes to my friends and family but I'm super cheap when it comes to me. I still have an iPhone 5—just saying.
Why do players ask for three balls before serving, then return one to the ballkid? Even after watching and playing on my miserable level for 25 years, it doesn't make sense to me.
Some balls are more worn out than others. You can tell by how fuzzy they are. We pick the least fuzzy one hoping it will add a mile or two on our serves. It never does.
Have you learned anything from art or literature that has helped your tennis game?
I think the most dangerous part about traveling the world in a secluded microcosm is forgetting that other worlds exist out there. We tend to only see ourselves and only our little society of tennis players where nothing else matters but points, wins and confidence. Art and literature help me get new perspectives. They remind me every day that reality keeps wavering outside our black little cave scattered with racquets, umpire chairs and player lounges and they teach me humility.
Are you still thinking of politics after tennis?
When I was young and naive I used to think you made policies by being smart, having good intentions but most of all, by holding tear-jerking speeches that would always be welcomed by standing ovations and actual change. I do not think that anymore. I hope this answers your question ;)
How do you deal with everyday life's pressure? How do you deal with pressure from a match?
My coach keeps reminding me: Trust the process, Andrea. The only thing you can control is giving your best, most sincere effort in whatever you do. Be honest, kind and believe in your values—that should be rewarding enough in itself. This is what you SHOULD do. What I do is: overthink, stress myself out and then cry myself to sleep at night. But in the most fun way possible, I assure you! But in all seriousness: I try to stay in the moment and give it my all every day of my life so when I am crying myself to sleep at night, I at least have something to wake up to in the morning.
Can you assure us that tennis will be okay when Roger, Rafa and Serena retire?
Have you seen Alexander Zverev, Stefanso Tsitsipas and Sloane Stephens? WE WILL BE FINE.
Would you rather meet Thom Yorke or Win Butler?
Win Butler. I‘ll be honest with you: I'm a simple girl and Win is very handsome in my eyes. Listen, it's a weird kind of attraction, something almost gross—similar to the way I feel about Post Malone (I‘m not proud of it). I once raided the streets of Montréal, hoping to find him. I then realized he was on tour with Arcade Fire in Europe. Mission dismissed. For now.
Be honest with us: Do tennis players really need to towel themselves off between every point?
—Todd G., New Haven
It depends really. On the East Coast in the U.S. during summer? A hundred times yes. I sometimes wish ball boys would throw me a towel in the middle of a point so I could wipe off my hand before I hit the next forehand down the line. In Paris at a 50 degrees, a slight drizzle of rain and clay? Not so much.
I like your game, your personality and the outfit you wore in New Haven. But … Could you play a quieter game if you wanted to?
I wish I could. I wish I could. I only ever grunt when things get really tough and I have to run a lot. The sounds that come out of my mind, trust me, I don't know why and I don‘t know how. In my darkest moment I think it's Satan who is hiding in the depths of my souls and only comes out when I need him the least. What can I say, we all have burdens and sins we carry.
How on earth did you get through Infinite Jest?
It took me a year and a half, three bookmarks, desperate screaming at the footnotes and all the willpower I posses. But here I am: 30 years old and mission Infinite Jest accomplished.
What's your favourite tennis-related memory?
I have a few. Winning Charleston is one of them, reaching the semis at the French Open another. I also cherish all the moments we had as a team in Fed Cup ties and at the Olympics.
Will you be more excited when you win a Grand Slam or a Pulitzer Prize?
I could be the first Grand Slam champion to win a Pulitzer Prize?
Care to jump in on the following debate: How do you feel about the Davis Cup changes? And how would you feel if Davis Cup and Fed Cup were combined?
—Peter P., Los Angeles
I honestly know too little about the changes to be qualified enough to answer that question properly but I will do my research, I promise. Especially now that I've heard that changes are headed toward the Fed Cup as well.
Would you like to visit South America again?
I actually have many countries in South America on my bucket list for when I finish my career. I really want to explore them all if I ever get the chance. Fingers crossed! I imagine it to be some kind of fantasy land where everybody dances hot Latin dances on the streets, red wine flows out of faucets instead of water and red meat is as buttery as in the old times when our animals were not filled up with antibiotics and their own feces.
Andrea, Why do players almost constantly hit easy short balls or overheads right back to their opponents—often getting passed—instead of to the open court? And it's not because their opponent "guessed right." I figure you have philosophically resolved this one.
Well listen, I feel like statistics are needed for this one. The probability of you hitting your easy shot right at your opponent is 50%. You have two options, going to the forehand or going to the backhand (let's leave the middle out just so it‘s easier for me to make a point). Your opponent has the same options. Now assuming that you're not one of those players who are able to wait until the last moment, watch where your opponent is going and then push it the other way (some serious multitasking required here) your chances are at a 50% to hit the open court. The probability, though, of you remembering every single one of the shots that went straight at the other player are a 100%. Try to recognize all the times a player puts away an easy shot in the open court consciously and you will see how your perception will shift: to 50/50. Now how high is the probability that I should‘ve become a lawyer instead of a tennis player?
It’s fun to see player friendships via social media (see: Andy Murray and Nick Krygios hitting up a roller coaster together during Cincinnati) and some players are known to be close, like Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. It led me to wonder, are there notable friendships across the tours? The ATP and WTA come together for tournaments multiple times throughout the year, including Slams, so I’d love to know if any WTA players are good friends with any ATP ones. Thanks and best of luck this season!
Oh, I think there are plenty. I just think players don't flaunt them as openly because people are quick to label them as romantic ones. So we keep it under the cover for most of the time. I still really enjoy my annual talks about football (that‘s soccer, guys, but really it‘s FOOTBALL) with Feli Lopez and I'll gladly go through Instagram every day of my life with Sascha Zverev, trying to find him a girlfriend. I'm just kidding, he's perfectly capable to do that alone. I just judge afterwards. Friendships, right?
I don’t understand Kyrgios. It's tough to like him even if sometimes you want to. He shows up obviously injured, puts in a half-hearted performance, lumps around, gripes to himself....people paid to go to this tournament! He’s got the money, why can’t he shut it down for the year and get well? Is it sponsorship commitments? It seems like such garbage behavior. No wonder he’s never a pick to win anything.
Okay, this is a tough one. I don't know Nick so well and I'm certainly no psychoanalyst. I do however believe that this sport of ours takes a toll, especially mentally. We all have defense mechanisms when things get to close to our hearts, when it's just about to hurt deep down, somewhere underneath the lung and just above the stomach. Some players get angry, others get sad and Nick gets.... Nick. Off-court, he is a very polite, lovely lad. But we're not always ourselves on-court. Something really dark tends to leave our body right in the moments when you need it the least and you can only hope and pray you have people by your side who are able to catch that dark entity for you and put it back into the bottle. A reverse Genie, so to speak, that comes out when you rub it the wrong way.
Fans talk about it all the time (and so does Jon), but as a player in her 30s, why do you think careers are getting longer? And do you think money is a factor?
I do think it's money to some extent. The extent being knowledge, and real knowledge sometimes unfortunately can only be bought. In physios, trainers, coaches and just the people that know most about our sport and to keep a body alive and functioning.
Andrea, what’s the best thing you’ve read this summer?
—Peter M., New York
The best thing that I've been reading—and I still haven't finished it yet—is a book written by a psychoanalyst named Erik H. Erikson called Identity and Life Cycle. It's a collection of scientific essays about which crises we go through in a lifetime in order to become a healthy personality and depending on those crises, which resistances and defense mechanisms we build up inside (see also my answer re: Nick Kyrgios). Beware! I might psychoanalyze you, too, now!