Schunk & Petkovic: Two Germans, One Common Tennis Experience

Nastasja Schunk (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 20, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The 44th edition of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, the kick off to the European clay court season, began with eight Germans out of 28 players making up the main draw. After the first day, only six remain. The two who took their curtain calls Monday evening – 17-year-old Nastasja Schunk and tour veteran Andrea Petkovic, who is finally healthy, again – both gave memorable performances for different reasons.

First, Schunk, who reached the main draw by winning a pair of qualifying draw matches over the weekend, left an excellent impression as a battler who gave it all until there wasn’t anything left to give in her 6-4, 6-2 loss to World No. 12 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland. The 927th-ranked qualifier from Mannheim, who was playing in her first WTA main draw, saved five match points spread over the final two games of her one-hour and 28-minute first-round match in Porsche Arena.

Schunk finished with 17 winners and committed 27 unforced errors against Bencic and was outpointed 72-51. Her serve was broken four times and she faced 10 break points from Bencic, who hit 19 winners and 14 unforced errors.

After the match, Bencic gave props to Schunk by saying she wasn’t surprised that it was a difficult match. “Nastasja is very talented, she played well and caused me a few problems. There’s a long road ahead of her and if she carries on the way she’s doing then she can go far.”

Schunk, who sat for a virtual press conference afterward, said she was pleased with her performance. “It was another step in the right direction,” she suggested. “I could have, perhaps, put Belinda under a little more pressure but I’m generally so happy after being given the [qualifying] wild card and, therefore, the great opportunity to show what I am capable of.”

The German teenager said she would reward her impressive performance with a sweet treat: “I’m going to treat myself to some chocolate.”

Meanwhile, Monday evening’s second singles match that was featured inside Porsche Arena turned out to be an abrupt ending for the 33-year-old Petkovic from Darmstadt, ranked 103rd, who lost to World No. 19 Maria Sakkari of Greece, 6-2, 6-2, in 67 minutes. It was their fourth career meeting on clay. The defeat dropped Petkovic’s win-loss record for this season to 2-5 after playing just one match – an opening-round loss at the French Open – last year.

Petkovic is on the mend from knee surgery last year and that’s positive news. Now that she’s getting back to where she can actually play tennis, Tennis TourTalk asked her if she’s still finding it rewarding to get out on the court and compete. She said emphatically: “Yes, I do. I mean there is nothing like it I think and I tried so many other things so I can tell (laughs) because I did have the other experiences and I do other things on the side.”

The thoughtful and outgoing Petkovic’s interests outside of the arena have included writing for both American and German publications, including the English-language tennis quarterly Racquet, a journal which celebrates the art, ideas, style and culture that surround tennis and lists her as cultural attaché in its masthead. Last year, she also started a popular book club on behalf of Racquet, which was a big hit on her Instagram platform.

“So, there is nothing like it, like competition and it’s less fun on evenings like today but still it’s worth it and it’s what keeps me going,” Petkovic said with a smile. “So, I definitely hope that … I mean with fans it’s another level of fun and competition. So, hopefully we will go back to that soon as well. That would be great.”

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

Tuesday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix order of play

What they’re saying

• World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty on how she’s handling homesickness, being away from Australia: “I think it’s part of traveling and kind of being comfortable away from home or as comfortable as you can be. Obviously. I’m a homebody, I love being at home with my family, and I think at the moment in the world that we are living in technology is an amazing thing to be able to connect with those you love the most.

“So, for me it’s quite simple, I try and chat to my family as often as I can, as frequently as I can. I love what I do. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be able to do what I love in the current situation in the world. So, you know, I’m just full of gratitude that I have the opportunity to do what I love being away from home. You know, I’m very lucky to be in the position I’m in.”

• No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova on assessing her 2021 season thus far: “I think I had some good matches, of course maybe a bit more matches which I wanted to play much better than I actually did but, you know, that’s how it is.

“For many years, I was super consistent. So, maybe this year is going to be a bit different, of course because of the break – you know every week on every tournament I get this question – so, of course, I’m trying to do my best to be back at the level where I’ve been or where I finished like last year in Australia, but I’m practicing well.

“I feel maybe it’s going to need more time. Of course, it’s not the best feeling about my year so far, but I think I’m doing many things right. So, hopefully, the year is still long, there is still plenty of tournaments to go. So, hopefully I will play a bit better.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

• No. 2 seed Simona Halep on the importance of having her primary coach, Darren Cahill, along with during the upcoming clay-court season: “Yes, he will be with me because he can’t get back home (laughs). So, he’s stuck with me.” Cahill is from Australia.

“Yes, he has been in Romania for one week. We trained very well back home. Now, he’s here for the first time and it’s nice to have him the whole clay court season because it’s my favorite season and to have him means a lot. I have confidence when he’s around and, yeah, we have great days.”

• No. 3 seed Sofia Kenin on assessing her season thus far, in which she’s 7-6 and has lost four of her last five matches: “I mean just two tournaments [Miami and Charleston] didn’t go so well. So, it’s not something that I’m like too much worried about. I think it’s just a matter of match play and I’m excited to be here, first time in Stuttgart. Obviously, I missed the red clay, so I’m practicing well, playing well. So, game-wise I feel a lot better than compared to Miami and Charleston. I feel it hopefully can be a good week here.”

Andrea Petkovic on her off-the-court writing and literary interests, which have including cultural writing for Racquet and starting a book club last during last year’s WTA shutdown: Well, I’ve been [writing] all my life – always on the side – but obviously, when we play tennis, we don’t have so much time. So now, during the pandemic and my injury – I had surgery last year – I had more time to actually spend, just work[ing] in there. I think it’s like with everything, if you spend time and work on something it evolves into things. Now, it’s a little harder for me because I’m focused on tennis again. But it’s just also my hobbies, I would say, or just things that interest me. So, it’s not that hard for me.”