During those days of self-doubt when Andrea Petkovic was suffering knee and back injuries that knocked her off the tour and dropped her ranking to No. 162, she poured out her pain writing poetry — and came to a catharsis.
"I'm writing a poem, and I'm like I'm a genius, why has nobody discovered me. And then when I read it back a month later, I realize how bad I suck, actually," Petkovic said with a laugh.
Staring down a set point at 4-5 in the Charleston final today, the self-described "natural doubter" showed her creativity in the art of the comeback. Petkovic reeled off eight consecutive games, transforming a duel into a dance party in high-stepping her way to a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Jana Cepolova to capture the biggest title of her career.
World No. 78 Cepelova did so much good work throughout the week, shocking top-ranked, defending champion Serena Williams in round two and fighting off talented Swiss teen Belinda Bencic, 7-6, in the third of the semifinals. But fatigue from her semifinal victory and jitters from her first career WTA final — asked before the match by ESPN's Pam Shriver how she would handle her nerves, Cepelova smiled and replied: "We will see" — conspired against her at the outset.
The 14th-seeded Petkovic punished a pair of forehands down opposite sidelines to break in the opener, backed up the break with a service winner, then broke again for 3-0. Annoyed by her nervy start, Cepelova moved in for a mid-court ball that was slowed stumbling off the tape and smacked a forehand winner to break back. The 20-year-old Slovak has a sweeping backswing on her forehand, which may be trickier to time on faster surfaces. But she's feisty — smacking herself across the face after one miss — fearless playing down the line and can call on her finesse (she slices and drop-shots off both wings), to bamboozle even experienced opponents. Inexperience was evident on her set point when Cepelova buried a fairly routine forehand return into the bottom of the net rather than making Petkovic play. It was a costly miss.
The spirited Petkovic competes with the genuine joy of one who loves her job and found her groove after the set-point save: She converted all six break points she earned. Typically, the forehand is Petkovic's kill shot — 20 of her 27 winners came off that wing in her semifinal comeback win over sixth-seeded Eugenie Bouchard — but her backhand hurt Cepelova. A two-hander crosscourt drew a stretch reply for break point and a deep backhand return elicited another error as Petkovic broke for 6-5. Serving for the set, she crunched a two-hander down the line to take the opener.
When Cepelova missed a running backhand wide to drop serve in the opening game of the second set, she glanced up at the gloomy sky with a weary expression—then tried shortening points by playing the dropper. Petkovic saved a break point and lifted a sharp drop shot answer to her opponent's initial drop shot to hold for 2-0. Anticipating the short ball, Petkovic dug out another tricky drop shot with a beautiful angled answer, eventually holding for 5-0. Cepelova, who won just two of 14 points played on her second serve, went down swinging, cracking a few forehand winners to close to 2-5. Based on the rousing crowd response she received, Cepelova has made quite a few fans this week.
Serving for the title for a second time, Petkovic met the moment of truth with a sense of calm, closing at love. The players shared an embrace at net then the choreographer of the "Petkorazzi" showed her happy feet bopping across the court as Pharrell Williams' hit "Happy" blared from the sound system while her coach, Eric van Harpen, wiped away tears of joy. Dancing days are here again for the engaging former No. 9, who is projected to rise to the Top 30 when the new WTA rankings are released tomorrow.