A professional tennis player once won a tournament two years in a row. Just think, said one of the champion’s friends, you can now use your trophies as bookends. The newly crowned victor countered that he would have no books to put in between them.
That’s far from the case with Andrea Petkovic. “Some people escape with drugs and alcohol,” said Petkovic shortly after winning her first round match at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston. “For me, it’s literature.”
Rarely will one encounter an athlete as engaged by ideas – art, literature, philosophy, politics – as the 29-year-old German. Petkovic is nothing less than the book-toting person you might have met in college who hung out in the quad debating the merits of various thinkers, writers and painters.
Still, the saying remains: once a player, always a player. So naturally, we had to ask Petkovic how some of her favorite authors might fare were a racquet placed in their hands. Meet just four of Andrea’s icons:
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Burst on the scene with innovative, terse, staccato-like style. Coined the term “grace under pressure” in tales of bullfighting, hunting and other manly pursuits. Would likely have admired matador-like Rafael Nadal; and like Nadal with Roger Federer, had a major rival in F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
“He plays short points – really likes to go to net. Definitely would chip-charge. He’s tall, handsome – much like Patrick Rafter.”
Saul Bellow (1915-2005)
Chicago-bred novelist who blended Jewish street smarts with a Western Civ sensibility – concerned with big ideas related to destiny, fate, and society. Bellow was very much his own man inside the lines, but like many player, frequently cited the role of his family in helping him reach the top.
“Things were too complex, but they might be reduced to simplicity again. Recovery was possible.”
“He hits big, powerful shots – like Alexander Zverev. He’s a spectacular, hard-hitting player who loves the big sentence and brings lots of philosophical insight.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Tortured German philosopher who proclaimed, “God is dead” and is often credited with foreseeing humanity’s existential angst of the 20th century and beyond. Precocious: earned a chair in philosophy at the University of Basel (Federer’s hometown) at the age of 24. Short career: health problems surfaced at 35 and lost his mind by age 44.
“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
“He’s like Ivan Lendl. He’ll grind it out. He likes to suffer.”
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Iconic Russian novelist who wrote such epic tales as “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” Took on everything – history, family, romance, fate and more. Beyond metaphor: Started to play tennis late in life and even had a court in his backyard.
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
“A percentage player. He always plays the right shot – a baseliner, sort of like Caroline Wozniacki. Just a terrific all-around player.”
Coming next: part two -- Petkovic compares tennis players to writers.