Cats’ duo opens NCAA tourney

By Brady Bauman

The Kansas State women’s tennis team will see territory it hasn’t seen in 18 years this week.

For the first time since 1995, the Wildcats will be represented in doubles competition in the NCAA Tennis Championships, which begin Wednesday in Urbana, Ill.

Junior Petra Niedermayerova and senior Karla Bonacic made the field as an at-large selection. Niedermayerova will also be representing K-State in singles play — the third year in a row she’s done so.

“It’s been awhile, it’s been a long time and it’s actually tougher to qualify now than it was then,” K-State head coach Steve Bietau said. “The level of tennis they had to play was pretty high. The things they had to do to get in were significant.

“They both have really strong backcourt games and their ground strokes are really good. Doubles teams — because of the nature of the game — that know how to volley well can have an advantage over strong baseline teams. The best teams do both, and that’s what they’ve been working toward.”

The duo is currently ranked No. 26 in the ITA doubles standings and tallied a 21-10 record. They are also the 2013 Big 12 champions from the No. 1 position.

Overall, Bonacic and Niedermayerova are 34-26 over the past three seasons when paired together and been in the ITA doubles rankings for 12 straight times dating back to April 17, 2012. They were just one of five doubles pairs from the conference to be selected into this year’s NCAA field.

“To be honest I was a little bit expecting it, so it wasn’t a big surprise,” Niedermayerova said. “It’s a really nice feeling to be a part of the group of the best doubles players, but it also gives you a responsibility to go out there and perform.”

Niedermayerova credited old-fashioned hard work for her and Bonacic’s success this season.

“It didn’t come naturally, for sure,” she said. “In the past, when she was down, it brought me down and we were (in trouble). Now, I know what to do to bring us back up. And tennis-wise, I know how she hits and when she hits, and she knows the same about me.

“We had some shaky performances at the beginning of the year. Now our chemistry on the court has really improved. At first, I thought a doubles team either worked or it didn’t, but now I know that if you really work at something, you can get really better.”

Bonacic said it is nerve-settling to have a partner who is so familiar with NCAA experience, and that the fact they’ve racked up so much court time together has been key.

“I think the strongest point that I can make is that we haven’t switched partners the whole year, basically,” she said. “I already know how Petra plays, how she thinks, how she feels, how she’s gonna move, where’s she’s gonna move, so, if you don’t know your partner, it’s really hard to play doubles. Me and her have chemistry, so I think playing with her constantly has just made us better each month.

“We were confident we’d qualify after Big 12 (play), but it was a nice feeling when we found out for sure.”

While Niedermayerova has been one of the more decorated players in the program’s history, Bietau made sure to point out Bonacic is no slouch.

“On one side (Petra’s) experience is always good,” Bietau said. “But, the thing you have to respect is how good Karla is. She’s played against many top players before and has had some success. She’s no stranger to this level of competition.

“Does having Petra there help? It certainly can. But Karla deserves to be there in her own right.”

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