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Tour life more than just a dance for Andrea Petkovic

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Aged just 23, Germany's Andrea Petkovic has already established herself as one of the most colorful, outgoing, unpredictable and introspective players on the WTA Tour.

If that all sounds a little confusing and perhaps contradictory, then consider the evidence.

Bosnian-born Petkovic, a lover of literature and alternative rock music who describes herself as thoughtful and happy, has patented her own jig, the 'Petko Dance', to celebrate on-court victories.

She is an erudite student of political systems who gained practical experience during a traineeship with the Hessian State Chancellery in Germany and is seriously considering a career in politics once her competitive tennis days are over.

An enthusiastic drummer and guitar player who is brutally honest about her own limited singing ability, Petkovic dreams of the day when she will own a record label and be able to help emerging musicians in her adopted country.

For the time being, though, the world number 23 is eager to rise into the top 10 in the rankings while fulfilling many of the targets set by her loyal German fans who, unfairly or not, often compare her to tennis great Steffi Graf.

"Steffi was always a big idol of mine and so just to be mentioned with her in the same sentence is such a huge honor," Petkovic, smiling broadly, told Reuters in a recent interview.

"I never thought that such a great champion would ever possibly be compared to me. I know I am so far away from her."

UNWELCOME BURDEN

Petkovic conceded, however, that there were moments when the Graf comparisons in Germany became an unwelcome burden.

"In the beginning, I thought they (the fans) would realize that I am a totally different person," she said. "Obviously they know I am not Steffi Graf but they do expect the same things from me.

"But Steffi won that many grand slams and achieved so many other things that I don't think I can ever match her, so those comparisons can be a big problem for me."

In her own right, the 1.80-meter Petkovic has a great deal going for her in the tennis world.

She broke into the top 50 last year and reached the quarter-finals of a grand slam for the first time at the Australian Open in January, beating former champion Maria Sharapova along the way.

"This year, I want to break into the top 20 and my next goal is to be among the top 16 seeds, which makes life a little bit easier in the grand slams," Petkovic said before letting out a full-throated laugh.

"Beyond that, I have my eyes on the top 10 but the most important thing is to keep improving your game because sometimes when you have a good run you start rushing for (ranking) points and more money and more points and then you start forgetting to improve.

"That's what I want to avoid and that's why I am trying to set my sights on improving my game more than the rankings."

CULT FIGURE

Petkovic, who was born in Tuzla, Bosnia, and now resides in Darmstadt, Germany, has become something of a cult figure in the women's game because of her infamous 'Petko Dance'. German musician Phil Fill has even paid tribute to it in a song.

The bottom-wiggling jig, which Petkovic performed regularly after match wins in Australia earlier this year, is a popular attraction on YouTube but she says it is never done at the expense of her opponents.

"It's my winning dance and I feel the fans are coming out to see that as well, not just to see me play," said the fun-loving German. "I am just trying to entertain the fans as much as possible. It has nothing to do with my opponent.

"Most of the time I ask my opponent at the net if it's okay for me to do the dance. Or if they leave the court immediately after the match, I wait until they have gone and then I do it.

"I would never try to humiliate them at all," added Petkovic, who loves engaging her fans via the social network Twitter. "I would never do it in FedCups or when I feel that my opponent is injured.

"For me, it's just an expression of happiness. I hope I have the feeling to know when to do it and when not to do it."

Petkovic, whose favorite authors are German writer and polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Irish poet, dramatist and wit Oscar Wilde, looks forward to embracing the world of politics once she retires from tennis.

"Life isn't only about taking but also giving and I am eager to take part in politics actively," she said. "As long as I'm on the tennis court, this won't be realistic but when I chuck away my racket one day, the time will come."

(Editing by Clare Fallon)