INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — When Andrea Petkovic looks back on 2012 it’s no surprise her favorite moment had absolutely nothing to do with tennis. No, Petkovic says the highlight of her year was getting to see one of her favorite bands, Bloc Party, and meeting them backstage.
“You expect a rock band to be cool,” she told a small pool of reporters Monday after her first match of 2013, a qualifier at the BNP Paribas Open. “They’re not cool. They’re nerds. But I love that. They are so into what they’re doing, and you see that.”
From a tennis perspective, Petkovic’s 2012 was forgettable. She began the season inside the top 10 but was derailed from the get-go by a back injury that forced her out of the Australian Open. Four months later, two matches into her comeback in Stuttgart, Germany, she tore ligaments in her right ankle, knocking her out another four months. She suffered yet another setback in late December, tearing the meniscus in her right knee at the season-opening Hopman Cup. Petkovic is a believer in Murphy’s Law. The last year certainly offered a mountain of proof.
This comeback is different, Petkovic said. She could have requested a main-draw wild card into Indian Wells, but Petkovic wisely requested into the qualifying tournament instead, opting to ease her way back, recognizing her need for match play. The goal was to get two matches under her belt. She guaranteed that with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Yulia Putintseva in the first round of qualifying Monday.
Petkovic said her string of injuries finally made it clear that her intense training schedule was tearing down her body. She let go of the intensity that saw her routinely put in six-hour days on practice courts.
“I was somebody that gained a lot of confidence from hours on the court,” she said. “Not really from quality in the practices but from hours. If I didn’t feel totally out of order and everything would hurt I felt it wasn’t a good practice day.
“I’m always somebody that is really intense and gives 100 percent, but when you know you have six hours to go you cannot give 100 percent each and every point. So I would let one ball there. I would not move my feet exactly because I know I have six more hours to go.”
Now she’s focused on quality, not quantity.
“I felt like each injury was a sign and I changed a little bit, but I never went the whole way,” Petkovic said. “I wasn’t courageous enough to actually change something.”
The knee injury she suffered at the Hopman Cup in Perth was the final reckoning. Petkovic flew home to Germany immediately and underwent surgery. In the immediate aftermath she questioned whether she would return to tennis.
“The first three or four days was really tough,” she said. “I really was thinking if it was a sign to stop.”
But she quickly put aside those thoughts and thanks to her highly skilled doctors, which included Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Miller-Wohlfahrt, who’s treated Usain Bolt, Petkovic was back rehabbing her knee a few days later.
“A lot of people approached me and told me, ‘We didn’t think you’d come back,’” Petkovic said. “Especially the people who know me, who know I have other interests and I could do anything else that would [be] fun [for] me. But I felt deep inside me that this chapter wasn’t over. And I think that’s why I kind of changed during this time because I didn’t have any expectations. I was just taking every moment in and really enjoying being back.
“I kind of feel like somebody or something gave me another chance. I feel like this is my second chance to approach my career as a new person and as a new tennis player and just not be that intense anymore. … This is what I need to change if I want to play for another four or five years.”
Though Petkovic cautions she’s only been working under this new system for a few weeks, her high-quality performance against Putintseva had to make her believe in her new outlook. The match was closer than the scoreline, with multiple games going to deuce or 30-all. But though this was just her first official WTA match since last fall, Petkovic showed no signs of panic when her service games got tight. She was surprised she was able to play so well considering she’s only been back on court hitting for two and a half weeks.
“I had a little confidence before, so I didn’t go from zero to hero,” she said laughing.
Faced with break points immediately in the second set after Putintseva took a long bathroom break, Petkovic saved them with workmanlike effort and repeatedly snuffed out any hope Putintseva had to get back into the match. She hit big when she had to and patiently worked points when she had to, clear signs that she’s confident in her body. A simple fist-pump to her team punctuated match point. As the knowledgable crowd pulled out their camera phones and begged her to do her famous “Petko Dance,” she smiled and simply said “No, dance.” The new Petko Era.
“I know that I cannot be as consistent as I was before, so I’m not expecting to play each and every tournament and each and every match as intense as I did before,” she said. “But I just expect for myself to have the same state of mind and approach every match positively and enjoy.
“My coach laughs at me when I tell him I’m a changed person, but it’s true because I don’t get frustrated anymore. I’m just enjoying to be back. I enjoy every moment of it. I enjoy being in the sun, I enjoy doing what I love.”