May 24, 2012
This feature appeared in the Thursday edition of the K-State Sports Extra.
By Mark Janssen
Going into this week, Petra Niedermayerova said that she was “… excited and ready.”
More excited because she knows she is more ready for the 2012 NCAA Tennis Championship environment that she walked into Wednesday in Athens, Ga., at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
“I was nervous last year, and really shouldn’t have been,” said Niedermayerova, who lost a first-round NCAA match in 2011 after coming off a rookie season when she was both the Big 12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. “But it was the first time to enter such an event. This year I’m more comfortable and I know more about the competition.”
Niedermayerova demonstrated that confidence with an opening round 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Wichita State’s Lutfiana Budiharto to become the first Wildcat to win a first-round match since Alena Jecminkova in 2002. It was also Jecminkova who was the last Wildcat to play in consecutive NCAA Championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Next in line in a Round of 32 match today will be another familiar foe in Baylor’s Diana Nakic.
Niedermayerova, ranked No. 29 in the nation, will be the underdog as Nakic is No. 16, which included a three-set win in a Big 12 match that lasted nearly four hours this season.
While a winner of 23 matches in 2011-12, Niedermayerova, and her head coach Steve Bietau, are in agreement that she’s a better player today than 12 months ago when she was a winner of 24 matches.
“She’s better in three areas: forehand, serve and experience,” said Bietau. “It’s amazing she did as well as she did last year without any of those areas being at a high level. She had a forehand, but she couldn’t win points with it, and she was vulnerable with her serves. At the NCAA Championships last season she really fought the girl from Arkansas hard, but in critical moments she couldn’t get the job done.
“It’s not all about velocity with a serve, but it’s also about location and spin,” explained Bietau, who calls his No. 1 player, arguably, the No. 2 player in the Big 12 behind only to Texas A&M’s Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar, who is ranked No. 6 in the nation. “Last year her second serve would be right in the strike zone of another player. Now she has a second serve that can kick up to eye-level, which helps a lot.”
Niedermayerova agreed by saying, “My serve isn’t necessarily any faster, but I am a stronger player on offense and I have better placement with my serve. I have so many more details to work on, but I am better in all aspects of my game.”
Better to the point that a year ago she was ranked in the 50s in the national polls, compared to this year’s ranking of No. 29. Helping her to that lofty ranking came at the Riviera Championships last fall where she stunned No. 5 Lauren Embree of Florida, who was the 2010 SEC Player of the Year.
“A real confidence boost,” Niedermayerova would call it, as was playing in the National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in Flushing, N.Y.
With a career record of 47-22, which includes a 15-5 mark in Big 12 matches, on the court, Niedermayerova, the daughter of Ludek Niedermayerova and Milana Halamickova, has been equally stellar in the classroom.
An economics major, Niedermayerova recently earned a position on the CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-District VII At-Large First Team, after earlier winning a spot on the Academic All-Big 12 team. Niedermayerova becomes the fourth K-State women’s tennis student-athlete to earn Academic All-District VII honors and the first since Jessica Simosa in the 2006 season.
“I like the challenge of mixing academics with athletics. It’s something that my parents stressed to me when I was young,” said Niedermayerova, who posted a 3.94 in economics and recently was the recipient of the Dudley Williams Sophomore Book Prize, and the Duane L. and Leslee K. Cantrell Scholarship, based on academic performance and service to the economics department at K-State. “I’m still exploring all economics has to offer, but I’m leaning toward the macro-economic side.”
Niedermayerova said, “Long term, probably so,” when asked if she planned to return to her native country after completing her K-State career in 2014. “I have a lot of thinking to do between now and then, but that’s where family is.”
It’s a family, that she says “… supported me coming (to the U.S.). 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.”
While missing home, Niedermayerova admits that the good old U.S. is feeling more and more like home.
Fluent with her English, she quips, “I will always have this accent, but my communication with others has become much better. I still say something a little different at times, but it’s much better than last year.”
A product of Gymnazium Videnska High School, she added, “I like it here. I know more about the lifestyle… going to the movies, hanging out. My favorite is the Bluestem Bistro (cafe in Aggieville). I’m much more relaxed and at home this year.”
But, she’s also ready to return to her home following the NCAA Championship this week.
“I’m looking forward to relaxing, spending time with my family, and I’d like to travel through Europe some,” said Niedermayerova, who played in 342 individual and team competitions during the four years prior to coming to K-State (254-88). “I’ve played the whole year without a break, so I’m going to take some time off before starting my conditioning for next year.”
Next year when she says her future K-State goal is to be joined by her teammates at nationals.
“My goal next year is for our team to get to NCAAs,” said Niedermayerova.
And personally? “It’s just to work on plenty of little details to make me a better player. In theory, I know what to do, but my execution needs to be better. I need to eliminate mistakes, yet become more aggressive.”