By Mark Janssen
Kansas State tennis coach Steve Bietau sums up the season of freshman Petra Niedermayerova like this: "So many times this year she took on a good player and made it look like a relatively easy win."
After being named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and International Tennis Association Central Region Rookie of the Year, and Big 12 Player of the Year and the ITA Central Region Player to Watch, the native of Brno, Czech Republic, is now set to enter next week's NCAA Tennis Championships in Stanford, Calif.
Niedermayerova played herself to a No. 1 Big 12 finish at No. 1 singles by way of a 9-2 record, which was a first such finish for a Wildcat player. She currently has the second-most wins by a freshman in school history and is tied for fourth in school history for overall wins in a season with her 24-9 record in her rookie campaign. Her winning percentage of .727 ranks third in school history.
The steadiness of Niedermayerova shouldn't have come as a surprise as her name, Petra, in her native country means "... rock. I try to be solid."
The next action for Niedermayerova will be the 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Tennis Singles Championships in Stanford, Calif., on May 25-30 at the Taube Tennis Center. She was one of 49 at-large selections to the field of 64 that includes only 11 freshmen selected for the singles competition.
Niedermayerova is the fourth player in K-State history to reach the NCAA Championships in singles action and the first since Jecminkova in the 2002 season. The others were Karina Kuregian in 1995 and Yana Dorodnova in 1998
"I would say I'm somewhat surprised. I didn't know what the competition would be like," said Niedermayerova of her first season as a Wildcat. "I grew up on a high level of tennis, and knew it would be tough in the Big 12, but I didn't know how tough. When I started winning matches, it became pretty exciting."
And, most would think pretty exciting to be No. 1 and No. 1 singles.
"Just statistics," she says. "I can't ever say I'm the best player. Statistics don't matter in the next match. You start all over again."
But Bietau says Niedermayerova's accomplishments are much more than just statistics.
"There's not a bit of cockiness to her in any way, yet there is a definite sense of maturity and sureness about her," said the longtime Wildcat coach. "She helps the team in so many ways. Obviously, there's the winning of matches, but also the problem solving that each of her teammates can learn from. You don't beat the people she's beating without being able to adjust during a match. She just doesn't make it easy on opponents. She doesn't hurt herself with mistakes, and she takes advantage of the mistakes her opponents make.
"I think she's exceeded everyone's expectations, including her own, to a certain degree," said Bietau. "We knew she was an excellent player and expected her to do well. But this well? No, probably not."
The daughter of Ludek Niedermayerova and Milana Halamickova, the 20-year-old graduate of Gymnazium Videnska was ranked as high as No. 29 in the Czech Republic.
Of her parents, Niedermayerova, said, "They supported me coming (to USA). It's something we talked about for the last two or three years. It was scary ... sure, but I can speak with them at any time, I can send them pictures and videos, and they can read articles online. I still feel connected with them even though we're divided by a big distance."
In the last five years Niedermayerova was a four-time singles champion at the Southern Noravian Championship and a three-time doubles winner. She also won the 2006 singles title at the TE Junior Tour 2L TC Cup contested in her home town of Bruno.
Niedermayerova flashes a wide smile and breaks into laughter at the thought of her first 'wow' moment of life in the United States.
"Free refills on drinks!" she laughed.
Turning serious, she continued, "The first thing was how friendly people were. Even people you don't know are there to help you. I bought a bike at Wal-Mart and the people put my bike in a truck and took it to my dorm. That would never happen in the Czech Republic. It was a very positive impression."
Also helping Niedermayerova make the transition is being a part of a team that has team members who come from Croatia and Spain.
"We're all dealing with the same cultural adjustments, which is helpful," said Niedermayerova, who spoke fluent English when she arrived through her high school education. "I didn't know much (about the U.S.). Politics you get from the news, and I had heard of the big cities and other things from movies, but not life in Kansas."
Naming Pete Sampras and Mary Pierce as her early-teenage tennis idols, Niedermayerova is keeping her goals short-term.
"I don't think about playing professionally, at all," the economics major said. "I just want to keep improving and winning matches. I just don't think about it. My family has always put the school in first place, and sports in second place."
In Niedermayerova's first season at K-State, there have been co-first places.
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