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Midway through our two-week WTA vacation in Stanford and San Diego, we offer a guest post from our Spanish friend Alvaro Rama, who has supplied some of the stats mentioned by us on Twitter and on the blog.  An aspiring journalist, Alvaro discusses rising star Andrea Petkovic in a profile that follows the five-strength, five-weakness format debuted here a few months ago.  We hope that you enjoy reading his contribution and learning more about the little-known but highly talented German, an engaging personality who seems likely to become a future contender in the women’s game.

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Strengths:

Beyond her reasonably strong serve, footwork, and other features, we consider it appropriate to expand upon the following aspects in order to provide a more complete vision of Petkovic’s game.

1) Forehand

It is the most powerful resource in the hands of the German player. Part of a one-two punch that starts with the serve, this shot pins opponents behind the baseline, continuously moves them laterally, and seizes control of points at any time. Petkovic uses her forehand as the main foundation on which to build her transition from defense to offense. It is the flagship of her game for better or for worse. On the one hand, the optimal deployment of this blow (combining power, depth, and directional precision) usually occurs in stages of the match when her confidence is especially high. Nevertheless, at critical periods and especially at key points, this massive shot can prove a liability, for Petkovic’s flamboyant character often inspires her to attempt overly aggressive gambits. The German tends to rely almost entirely upon her explosive offense, without the flexibility of a Plan B behind this high-risk strategy; thus, she can find herself confined to a predictable, one-dimensional style. The best travel companion when present, the forehand also can be the worst nightmare when absent.

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2) Confidence against higher-ranked players

One of the most striking aspects of the German’s game is her self-belief regarding the biggest names in women’s tour.  Far from intimidated on the court against dedicated rivals with much more experience, such as Serena Williams, Dementieva, Kuznetsova, or Clijsters, she always confronts them with an offensive mindset. Employing defensive tactics against the tennis elite would appear to be a logical tactic, so Petkovic is atypical among her rising peers in the circuit. The German has always featured great performances on the grandest stages; despite having been defeated in most of such clashes, one can say that each and every one of them were extremely evenly matched. If one is not considered a threat by the stars of the WTA, one surely will never become one of their rivals.

3) Mentality

Positivity, trust in the court, conviction in her game plan being executed:  key components in any player’s game that are prominently showcased by Petkovic. In order to perform at her best, she manifests a steely composure that is quite discernible once she has begun to work herself into a match.  Petkovic possesses the ability to regroup in mid-match and convert an erratic performance into fearlessly aggressive tennis, unleashing her fierce groundstrokes in an unflinching offensive barrage while controlling her unforced errors—no small feat. On the other hand, her success clearly hangs in a delicate balance when she plays in this manner; how long can she continue to walk along on a precipice?   Often, she slips off it in an avalanche of unforced errors.

4) Intelligence and diversified interests (on-court and off-court)

Petkovic is known to be a kind of intellectual off the court, who relishes literature and political discussion.  In fact, she possesses a keen sense of humor and, above all, a great ability to laugh at herself. These are characteristics that may not seem relevant to her on-court performance but can make interesting long-term returns. Travelling to tournaments almost every week and daily training demands immense dedication from the exclusive circle of elite players and must be hard from a psychological point of view. It is important to free one’s mind and break one’s routine without leaving the road, balancing professional life with the development of a personality. Andrea’s horizons extend beyond the successes or failures on the field; victory is not her only goal in life, nor is defeat an unmitigated disaster. Between those two extremes, she is able to carve out a comfortable mental space for herself rather than magnifying the good or the bad. Among the most compelling examples of this trait was the German’s reaction to squandering four match points against Kuznetsova in the second round of Roland Garros this year. 6-4, 5-4, 40-0:  seven figures that represent a significant missed opportunity, or rather four if we consider the number of match points wasted. But Petkovic responded with professoinalism. “She’s a Grand Slam champion, [while] I’ve never been past the round of 16 in a major. That will come. I just started to start my journey. My way is to look ahead. ” Therefore, she recognized that one can learn more from defeat than from victory and that one must fall before learning to ride properly. Her disappointing experience in Fed Cup also could help her in a similar way.

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5) Steady upward mobility and potential

There is a Chinese proverb that says: ‘If you want to know what it’s like to run your hand over the back of a tiger, pet a cat first. ” A player’s career should be measured by looking at the complete file, the finished script. A wayward or inconsistent start usually does not augur poorly for a player’s ultimate success, and Petkovic already has begun to write intriguing chapters in her own story. Hunger is the word that can define her emotional state at this stage in the narrative. At 22, after having overcome a serious injury and having won her first WTA title, the German player has begun to experience new sensations in 2010 –her first final on grass, her first victory over a former #1 (Ivanovic), her first tournament as a seeded player, her first tournament as a top seed. This series of circumstances should help increase her confidence and make her see that her potential for improvement remains vast.

Weaknesses:

1) Backhand

Used primarily as a defensive shot, Petkovic’s backhand is one of the more limited components of her game. This vulnerability is often exploited by opponents, who direct their offensive sorties towards that wing. While the strategy does not always assure success, the defensive character of this shot contrasts dramatically with the striking power of her forehand. When on offense, the German rarely uses it as a weapon from the baseline, much less when she attempts winners. It plays a key role for her only when she capitalizes upon an opponent’s short balls to close points in the forecourt (as a put-away shot).

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2) Net play

Accustomed to exchanging groundstrokes from the baseline, the German feels uncomfortable upon moving into the net for volleys. Despite being endowed with good mobility that should allow her to effectively counter an opponent’s passing shots, her forecourt performance rarely yields winners or commanding shots.  She frequently leaves the ball too high or too short, allowing the opponent to respond with ample guarantee of success.

3) Inconsistency

This flaw constitutes probably the biggest problem in Petkovic’s game. Periodic mental lapses are typical, often involving a series of unforced errors, double faults, or unintelligent shot selection during a prolonged segment of the match.  These untimely miscues have sometimes resulted in squandered leads during contests that Andrea had controlled or even tipped the balance against her in evenly matched encounters.   She also tends to raise the level of her game as the match progresses, displaying indifferent tennis in the early games and thus incurring the risk of playing from behind.  Although an obvious shortcoming, this issue does not comprise an insoluble problem against lower-ranked rivals, who also produce numerous unforced errors—but the elite players punish such lapses.  At this higher level, errors are not to be expected from one’s opponents or a reliable means of winning matches.  Dominant WTA players win matches on their own merits rather than wait for the mistakes of the opponent. The problem is that its virtues are not always enjoy a prominent role on gaps and somehow tend to stifle the potential of your natural talent. In order to rise further in the tennis hierarchy, therefore, it is a feature of Petkovic’s game that she must improve immediately.

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4) Self-expectations / self-pressure

Although it has been suggested previously that Andrea has shown the ability to take positive readings of the sorriest episodes in her career, it is also true that sometimes she has burdened herself with excessive expectations.  An example of this concern was the Fed Cup tie against the Czech Republic, when she demonstrated emotional instability by shedding tears after a match that she believed that she needed to win. The added pressure increases her nerves during the match and possibly results in a loss of concentration that benefits the opponent’s cause during the contest’s latter stages. Before the match appears a volatile Petkovic, filled with uncertainty; having left the court, the German becomes a clear-headed individual with great analytical skills. Her adrenaline and desire before the match should be modulated to find a midpoint between tension and relaxation.

5) Capitalizing upon success

Despite the progress made this year, the German player still belongs to the second or third tier of the WTA. Without an elevated ranking to establish herself as a seed in the key tournaments, she must nudge forward a little further in order to avoid the major rivals in the early rounds of the biggest events.  As a result, she has not yet reached the status of a serious contender and does not enjoy the inherent privilege of the intimidation factor, which would dishearten her foes before they enter the court. It is a right that has yet to win. Her early exit as the top seed in Bad Gastein prevented her from enjoying the feeling of being at the center of attention for more than two matches.  Having enjoyed early tastes of success, she must continue improving her game rather than slipping into the complacent attitude of one who has arrived where she wants to be.

—Alvaro Rama (edited by sharapovanovic)

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We return in about a week with (slightly belated) previews of the ATP Toronto and WTA Cincinnati events.  Meanwhile, let’s hope that San Diego proves as exciting as Stanford!

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Although “half as exciting” might be quite exciting enough.  We’ll remember the Sharapova-Dementieva quarterfinal for a long time.  😉

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