A year ago, then-freshman Petra Niedermayerova walked to the entrance of Stanford University’s Taube Tennis Center and knew she was in a whole new world.
The complex seats nearly 3,500 people and is filled with NCAA championship plaques and Stanford Hall of Fame inductees scattered throughout the facility. Names like John and Patrick McEnroe litter the walls, along with women’s tennis greats such as Kathy Jordan and Julie Heldman, who was ranked as high as No. 5 in the world in the late 1960s.
It was also the site for the NCAA championships, and Niedermayerova was understandably a bit nervous.
“She was a little intimidated,” Kansas State head tennis coach Steve Bietau said earlier this week. “We walk in (the Taube Tennis Center) and see the names on the Wall of Fame and it is full of not just names everyone knows, but names that we know, too.”
The Brno, Czech Republic native was the first Wildcat in nine years to make the field for the NCAA Women’s Tennis Singles Championships and fell in the first round.
She made certain this season that it wouldn’t be another nine years for a Wildcat to qualify for the Championships. For the second straight season, Niedermayerova has again been selected to the NCAAs.
She will begin play Wednesday after seeding has been determined after this weekend’s team competitions. The 2012 NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships are hosted in Athens, Ga.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Niedermayerova, who has been K-State’s top singles player. “I’m more experienced and know what I should be expecting. I know the competition will be very good and know I’ll have to do my best to play well.
“I just want to take it one step at a time. I want to win the first round, then go from there.”
The experience Niedermayerova said she’s gained — everything from being at the NCAAs last season to simply becoming more acquainted with her surroundings in the United States — is key to her confidence going into the national championships this time around.
“When I went there last year it was like, ‘Wow… the NCAAs.’ There was so much attention for it in Stanford and it was all crazy,” she said. “This year I just know what to expect. I know I just need to play my match.”
Niedermayerova has had a successful sophomore year. She is ranked No. 27 in the Campbell/ITA national standings and tallied a 16-6 record this spring. She had a consecutive win streak of nine matches from January to March.
Earlier this season Niedermayerova advanced to the semi-finals in the ITA/Riviera Women’s All-American Championships in Los Angeles and with that performance, qualified for the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in Flushing, N.Y. Only one other Wildcat has ever qualified for the Intercollegiate Indoor Championships, and that was Karina Kuregian in 1995.
In the Riviera championships in L.A., Niedermayerova posted three wins over opponents ranked in the Top 30 of the national singles rankings, including a straight-set win over the No. 5 and 2010 SEC Player of the Year Lauren Embree of Florida in the second round.
Niedermayerova is just the second women’s tennis player in K-State history to make back-to-back trips to the NCAAs in singles competition.
“She’s got a lot more experience,” Bietau said. “And that experience came against some of the top people in the country. Her performance at the Riviera’s — which is the NCAAs of the Fall — was really special.
“She’s been on a national stage a number of times, now, since NCAAs last year, and has had a lot of success since.”
Bietau said her knowledge of the game has grown into her sophomore year.
“Her serve is better and her forehand is better,” he said, “and she’s more offensive with it. She’ll now occasionally win a point with her serve or create a weakness with her serve that she just didn’t do last year. At this time last year her serve got picked on. If she missed her first serve, her second serve really got picked on. As a matter of fact, that’s one of the things that happened to her at NCAAs last year. She played somebody who was older and a lot more experienced, and knew how to take advantage of those weak spots in her game.
“Her forehand, at this time last year, she used it to just keep the ball in play. Now, it’s a lot more attackable. She wins points outright with it now that she didn’t win last year.”
Niedermayerova was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2011 and holds a total win-loss record of 46-22 in her career so far at K-State, including a 14-13 record against ITA-ranked opponents. Her overall winning percentage of .676 is currently third in school history.