When last seen in Charleston, Andrea Petkovic was planning a celebratory flight home.
“I will drink champagne from my trophy,” Petkovic said after winning the Family Circle Cup title on Daniel Island. “That’s going to be fantastic ... And I’m going to walk around and dance with the cabin attendants.”
A year later, details of that flight to her home in Germany remain gratefully fuzzy.
“I was very happy my mom and sister were with me to take care of me,” Petkovic said recently. “I just remember being very happy and tired at the same time, but more happy than tired.”
The 27-year-old Petkovic has played at the Family Circle Cup only twice in her career, but she’s quickly grown fond of the tournament and of Charleston, for very good reasons:
She’s never been beaten in a match in Charleston. She had to withdraw from a quarterfinal match against Caroline Wozniacki in the round of 16 in 2013, and her run to last year’s title included wins over No. 4 seed Sabine Lisicki and No. 6 Eugenie Bouchard, making Petkovic 8-0 in matches played at the Family Circle Cup.
Her father, Zoran, played tennis at the University of South Carolina in the early 1980s, playing No. 1 singles for the Gamecocks. Last year, Andrea posed with the FCC trophy while wearing a “Carolina” sweatshirt.
And Andrea counts last year’s FCC title as the most important among her six career WTA singles titles.
“I still believe that to this day,” Petkovic said from Miami, where she made the semifinals of the Miami Open last week. “I’ve won three more titles since then, but that was the most important in my whole career, maybe even more important than my first title.”
When Petkovic came to Charleston last year, she was in the midst of a comeback that had her doubting her place in the game. She had cracked the WTA top 10 in 2011, reaching three Grand Slam quarterfinals that year. But a knee injury cost her much of the 2012 season, and though she worked her way back to the top 40 in 2013, it wasn’t until she won at the Family Circle Cup last year that she felt fully restored.
“Charleston just brought all the life back into me,” said Petkovic, who has won more than $4.7 million in her career. “After all my injuries, I was struggling to find myself, even more mentally than physically. I was so filled with doubt that I was standing in my own way, and Charleston gave me the power to break through those walls of doubt.
“I felt like a totally transformed player after that title. It wasn’t just winning the title, but how I played. I was moving real well on the court and trusting myself and my abilities. It was definitely a turnaround in my career.”
After winning in Charleston, Petkovic won twice more last year and again this season at Antwerp, and currently ranks 10th on the WTA Tour, just off her career high of ninth in 2011.
Zoran Petkovic will accompany his daughter back to Charleston this week, revisiting a state that played no small part in Petkovic family lore. After playing for USC, Zoran went on to play Davis Cup for Yugoslavia, and was Andrea’s teacher after the family moved to Germany when she was just six months old.
“He talks about his days at South Carolina all the time,” Andrea said of her father. “For him, coming from a Communist country in Yugoslavia, with restricted freedom and liberty, to the U.S. was an incredible experience. And then being on the team and playing college tennis, it was amazing for him to get all the love and great energy from the people there.
“The way he talks about it, it was one of the best times of his life. Even though it must have been pretty hard for a Yugoslavian guy coming to the U.S., when he talks about, his eyes start to sparkle.”
Petkovic has been known to add her own brand of sparkle to the WTA Tour.
Her free-wheeling press conference after her win last year was a glimpse into one of the more intriguing personalities on the tour. She’s known for breaking out the “Petko Dance” after victories, plays the drums for fun and skewers herself and fellow athletes in YouTube videos starring her alter ego, “Petkorazzi.”
She recently made her first foray into the world of serious art acquisition; listens to music ranging from Coldplay to Drake (“Coldplay is the best. Can you delete ‘Coldplay is the best?’ she said last year); and reads Goethe, Falubert and Wilde.
It’s all part of balancing her yin and yang, in Petkovic’s case represented by cool German star Steffi Graf and hot-blooded American Serena Williams.
“My two idols I grew up with were Steffi Graf, who is the stereotype German, and Serena Williams ... that rebellious, rock and roll type of tennis player that brought new energy, brought something new to tennis,” Petkovic said. “I just admire them both. I wish I could have five percent of either one. I would be very happy, a very happy girl.”