August 20, 2012
Petkovic Hoping Setbacks Will End at U.S. Open
By NICHOLAS MCCARVEL
NEW HAVEN — Late on a Sunday morning in New Haven, Andrea Petkovic chats with her fellow German and good friend Anna-Lena Groenefeld. The two laugh, Groenefeld’s eyes glued to her phone. Petkovic is buried into a plush leather couch, the sweat gone from her practice session and a zip-up hoodie keeping her warm.
For Petkovic, she is home.
A former top-10 player, Petkovic has had what any professional athlete would describe as a nightmare season in 2012. In January, a herniated disk in her lower back put her out of action for nearly three months. Then, just three matches into a comeback in April, she rolled her right ankle, tearing ligaments and needing surgery, putting her out of the game for another four months.
“I knew immediately that it was bad because I heard everything crack,” Petkovic says, holding onto the ankle that months ago forced her away from the game. “I tried to pull my foot up, and it just flopped there. The first thing I thought was: ‘Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.’ With 4,000 people watching. In Germany.”
Petkovic, 24, said she in fact did not cry. A rising star on the WTA Tour in 2011, Petkovic had launched herself to No. 9 late in the year after advancing to the quarterfinals of three of the four majors, including the United States Open. She had endeared herself to fans around the globe with her quirky sense of humor and a hard-to-forget victory jig she had dubbed the “Petko dance.”
But there was little dancing for Petkovic to do after the injury in Stuttgart, which came in front of a home crowd and just weeks before what was to be a big European swing, with the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics, the latter event being one she had kept her eye on since vaulting to the top of Germany’s list of rising stars early in 2011.
After ankle surgery, Petkovic spent weeks in rehab, saying she stole away to the bathroom to see if anyone had texted her, desperate for a distraction from the thankless five-day-a-week, seven-hour-a-day routine.
“Going to rehab was actually the worst,” Petkovic said. “You’re just doing these exercises where you’re not sweating, so you don’t feel like you’re doing something. There was a huge clock that I watched in the rehab room, and one minute felt like one hour. I think I might steal it to take it home as a souvenir. But you just have to do it. And now I feel fine.”
She did not feel fine after her back injury in January, during which she was told she must simply rest for the first few weeks.
“During my back injury, I asked them: ‘Can I do rehab? Can I do something?’ They said no. They said: ‘For the next two weeks, just rest. Don’t do anything.’ So I went on vacation,” she said. “I went for two weeks to the Maldives by myself. I got the message that I can’t do anything, and I booked my flight in the next hour. The next day, I was on a plane. It was the best the vacation of my life.”
What has bothered Petkovic throughout her nearly eight months away from the game is the fact that just when it seemed as though she was peaking in tennis, she was taken away from it. During her back injury, she talked through the frustrations with a sports psychologist (“my mental guy”), but after her ankle injury, she wanted to think things through on her own.
“I wanted to be alone with my thoughts.” Petkovic said. “I felt like it was a process that I had to go through on my own that just needed to happen. No one else could direct it; it just needed to happen. All this being down and being without energy, not wanting to wake up in the morning.”
“I felt like that all just had to happen,” she added. “I needed to get over it. I needed to become somebody else, somebody better.”
For now, a “better” version of Petkovic may not be apparent — at least not on the tennis court. She says she worries she might not be able to get back to the place she once was — inside the top 10. She’s projected to be ranked No. 38 on Monday and therefore unseeded for the United States Open.
“When I was sitting at home, I was worried — a half year, tennis develops really fast. I was really scared that I would not be able to compete with the top players and that I might not be able to get back to where I was,” Petkovic said. “Your expectations once you were in the top 10 are to be back in the top 10. Not to be in the top 30 — you’re not going to be satisfied with that. I’m definitely scared of that.”
At home in Darmstadt during the Olympics, Petkovic said she could not bring herself to watch a minute of the singles in tennis, tuning in only to watch her countrywoman and friend Sabine Lisicki play with the German Christopher Kas in the mixed doubles bronze medal match. She said she watched “everything, even the shooting events,” because she “loves the Olympics.”
No longer is she home in Germany, but instead back in the player lounges, the hotels, the courts of the WTA Tour — a different sort of home. She will play in her first match since her ankle turn in the New Haven Open on Monday. Her expectations for the United States Open?
Laughing, she said of the Open: “Success for me is going to be to win a match. That would be huge already. I don’t expect much of anything from myself right now because I feel like I’m not there yet in the matches.”
And if she wins that one match, will we see a revised Petko dance?
“It’s really tough coming up with something new,” she said. “I already had the moonwalk and the arm move. I need to wait for an inspiration, I think. No pressure.”