Andrea Petkovic is finally healthy and motivated. And she's ready to take on the homestretch of her career. After advancing to the quarterfinals of the Melbourne Summer Set 1, the German told WTA Insider that 2022 could be her final season.
"I'm 34, which is young for life, but old for tennis," Petkovic told WTA Insider after her second-round win over France's Clara Burel.
"I'm seeing the finish line. I don't know if it's going to be this season or next season, but I can see the finish line and at times it makes me really sad because this is my passion."
Knowing that her playing days are numbered, Petkovic is taking nothing for granted. Her gritty wins over Liudmila Samsonova and Burel in Melbourne have earned her a shot at reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka for spot in the quarterfinals. Eight years ago, Petkovic handed Osaka her first WTA loss in the second round of the 2014 Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, where Osaka made her main-draw debut.
"I felt like she definitely taught me a lesson that day," Osaka said, recalling the 6-2, 6-2 loss. "Yeah, I definitely got my butt kicked."
Petkovic spoke to WTA Insider from Melbourne to discuss her perfect preparation for what could be her final season, why she sees the finish line so clearly, and break down what she finds so impressive about Osaka's game.
WTA Insider: How important was that great run through the clay last summer, where you won 12 of 14 matches, including the title in Cluj-Napoca?
Petkovic: On clay, I really found my mental attitude back. I was never the most fluid player but I had other strengths. I can grit matches out and I'm there all the time, I have a lot of intensity and I really found that on clay.
On hard in the second part of the season, I was playing well but on a subliminal level I was a little bit scared with my knee. So I was doing one extra step in the corner and I didn't realize that until the off-season. So I was a little braver in my physical preparation. I introduced some more weights, squats and lunges, which I was afraid of doing with my knees after my surgery.
All of the sudden coming back on hard court, I was like, 'Oh, it's a difference from last year. I don't have to do the extra step. I can just stop and go straight back.' That 5-10% left me a little wanting on the hard-court season, even though I was hitting the ball well.
WTA Insider: Where is your mind as you start the 2022 season?
Petkovic: Well, I'm 34, which is young for life, but old for tennis. I'm seeing the finish line. I don't know if it's going to be this season or next season, but I can see the finish line and at times it makes me really sad because this is my passion. This is what I love. I love competing. I love going out there with these young girls who have such an amazing new attitude and bring all this energy to the world, especially to the tennis world. It just makes me proud to still be there and hang in with them on the court.
My goal for this year has been to be the most professional, best version of myself that I can be on court according to everything, the physical stuff, the recovery stuff, but as well the mental stuff. I just want to go out there and grind every point, believe in myself, and then see how far it takes me with my body.
But yeah, it's sad to see the finish line, but I think I just got to go through the feelings and feel all the emotions.
WTA Insider: Why do you see the finish line now?
Petkovic: Normally the three or four weeks that I have before the pre-season would always leave me fresh in my body. For the first time, I felt that I hadn't gathered the whole freshness. So I did feel the recovery process being a little slower. That's basically it, the recovery process.
Mentally, I'm amazed at how much I still love it. I think that would really be the trick in all of life if you could have the mind of a more experienced person and the body of a young person. That would give you a perfect life but that's not how things work. So mentally, I'm at a really good place but physically, the prolonged recovery time has given me sometimes some issues.
There is nothing like tennis. And I tried it all. I did TV, I did the writing. I enjoyed most of it. But this very specific feeling of adrenaline that you have after winning a match or the very specific turmoil that you feel inside yourself after you lose a match and the ups and downs and the competition, there is just nothing like it. When you try other things, you realize pretty quickly that it's going to be really hard to replace tennis.
WTA Insider: What are your thoughts on facing Naomi in the next round?
Petkovic: I remember playing her when she was 16 at 2014 Stanford. I remember that match so well because she was 16, a wildcard, beating Sam Stosur who was playing well at the time, and hitting her forehands as hard as is humanly possible. I had my way with her there. I was too solid at that time.
There are two matches in all of my career where I felt that even if I had played the best tennis that I was able to play, I probably would have lost. That was one time against Serena in Toronto when she was going for the Grand Slam and against Naomi in Beijing. I wasn't playing my best, but I wasn't playing badly, either. I was just completely outplayed.
She was just so dominating. When she's on she's just so dominant from all sides. So hopefully I can have a little more say in the match, where I can also construct some points and not just be overwhelmed by her power.
WTA Insider: On the topic of Serena and Naomi, their games are compared quite often. What's your take on that?
Petkovic: With Serena, people think she just plays power tennis. Actually, when Serena is playing her best, she is not playing that power tennis. It's a different way of feeling powerless against her because she really builds a point well. So with Serena, you just have the feeling when she's playing well that in every part of the game, she's just that much better. You just feel she's better in all the departments, just a tiny bit, which is enough to destroy you on court mentally and like, suck out your soul [laughs].
With Naomi, it's a different feeling of powerlessness where it feels like she's physically too strong for you, too powerful for you. It just feels like I can't possibly hit the ball as hard to push her back on the baseline because she's going to already throw the kitchen sink at me.
It's like being in a swordfight, somebody is so fast that the only thing you can do is defend. You don't even have the time to think about attacking. That's how it feels with Naomi. With Serena, it feels like you're fighting but for some reason, you're getting slit everywhere all the time. That's the main difference.