Call it an existential crisis, midlife crisis, mid-career crisis… whatever Andrea Petkovic went through at the end of last season is well behind her, the German has confirmed.
Petkovic, who eased past tricky Italian Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-1 in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships first round on Monday, came dangerously close to quitting the sport at the end of last season.
She was struggling to silence the voices in her head that told her there was more to life out there than the game she loved and her 6-0, 6-0 defeat to Carla Suarez Navarro in Zhuhai that bookended her season certainly did not help.
The ever-charismatic Petkovic, who rose to fame not just for her great tennis that saw her land in the top-10 more than once but also for her on-court Petko-dance moves and witty rhetoric in the press room and on social media, was unhappy and felt like she no longer wanted to be on the tour.
Her mother had fallen ill as well and had surgery while the German was playing a tournament in Asia, which compounded her misery.
But Petkovic powered through her feelings and says she realised it was just a “crisis” that was part of growing up and the world No28 is now happy to be back on court.
"I usually loathe playing her".. Petko says it like it is. She was 0-3 H2H v Giorgi but has now beaten her in their last 2 meetings— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) February 15, 2016
Her straightforward victory over Giorgi – a player she admittedly “loathes” to play – ever the indication that she is back on track.
“A midlife crisis,” she said laughing on Monday.
“I am over that. I’m definitely over, and I’m so thrilled that I made the decision to keep playing.
“I think now that I look back, I feel – maybe ‘ashamed’ is too harsh of a word, because I’m so happy with my life right now.
“I think maybe that crisis actually made me work harder in the offseason because I really wanted sort of to make up for the lost time.”
Petkovic tried to explain the reasons behind that “crisis” and said she felt she was missing out on perhaps pursuing other interests. The 28-year-old is not your typical athlete. She can chat about Netflix shows, Jack White music and Leo Tolstoy literature with equal passion and one thing she thought she might regret is not going to college.
“I think it’s just a thing of growing up. When you’re 20, 21, 22, you just feel like all the doors are still open. You can still be a surgeon, you can still be a lawyer, you can still be an actress, you can be whatever you wish. Once you get older, I think you realise that certain doors are closing, and there are certain paths in life that you can’t go back to,” she explains.
“One of these things was maybe a normal student life for me or things that I would like to study that I would like to know more about. And I think all these things combined just led to a midlife crisis, but I’m glad I’m over it because I’m very happy with everything I have. I know I’m very blessed. I’m just so grateful that I’m able to lead this life that I’m leading.”
To get over her troubles, Petkovic had conversations with people who have gone through similar periods and read a lot of biographies of people who struggled at an age similar to hers. One unexpected name comes up when she talks about one artist’s life story that helped her through.
“Actually Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, he actually quit playing guitar when he was 28 exactly for a year before he came back and became a huge star, obviously. For me, that was maybe not the thing that I could identify most with but that made me realise most that it was just a crisis, because if you don’t want to be a rock star, what else in life do you want to be?” she said laughing.
“So I figured if he’s going through a crisis, it’s okay for me to go through a crisis as a tennis player.”
Against Giorgi on Monday, Petkovic was calm, assertive, and crushing her backhand. She lost her first three meetings to the Italian, all in 2014, but has now beaten Giorgi in their last two meetings.
Giorgi struggled on serve and could only hold once throughout the 63-minute match.
“I was very happy with the way I played. I usually loathe playing her,” said a smiling Petkovic, who next faces either Belinda Bencic or Jelena Jankovic.
“I have worked on a lot in the offseason and I have been playing really well in the past couple of months in practice. I just wasn’t able to transfer it into the matches.
“I think today was one of the first matches where everything came together, and what I really feel like is I’m getting back to the level that I had in 2011 (when she made three grand slam quarter-finals).”