Cyclone tennis staying aggressive for upcoming events



Iowa State tennis Head Coach Boomer Saia talks to the team during the historic 2020-21 season. 

The first major tournament of the fall season has arrived for the Iowa State tennis team, as a quartet of their squad will travel to North Carolina this weekend to participate in the ITA All-American Championships. 

The Cyclones will be split across the country this weekend, as they will also be sending players to compete in the Cal Fall Invitational in Berkeley, California.

All seven of the Cyclones will be on the court this weekend, with most of their previous tournaments involving either a doubles pair or a small group of singles entries. 

The ITA All-American Championships will see the Cyclones be represented by four of their athletes, with all of them playing in both the singles and doubles disciplines.

Iowa State will be highlighted in singles by seniors Thasaporn Naklo and Chie Kezuka. Both players already have multiple tournament matches under their belt this season, with Naklo reaching a career-high by advancing to the quarterfinals of the West Texas Pro Tennis Open in Lubbock. 

Naklo will start her journey in the 64-player qualifying draw, while Kezuka will play in the pre-qualifying rounds, which feature an additional 96 players.

Naklo, who is also shortlisted as an alternate for the 32-player main draw, has a chance to create history this weekend. In winning her next match, the Thailand native will record her 100th collegiate victory, a feat that will have her tied for 16th on Iowa State’s all-time leaderboard.

That will have her even with former All-Big 12 selection Erin Karonis, who in her four years as a Cyclone (2007-2011) finished eighth all-time.

Kezuka and junior Miska Kadleckova have been the highlight of the Cyclones’ doubles news in recent weeks, with the pair reaching the finals of the Milwaukee Classic.

There, they lost out to the USC duo of Madison Sieg and Naomi Cheong, the latter of whom will join Naklo in the qualifying draw. Kadleckova will join Kezuka in the pre-qualifying draw for singles.

Kezuka, who will be pairing up with Naklo in doubles as well, spoke of her preparation for the Championships by talking about her game style. 

The Fujisawa, Japan, native said, “I just want to be more aggressive than my opponent. From the first ball, either serve or return, [I want to] play my style, a more aggressive style. Going towards the net, getting volleys and finishing the point, that is my goal for each point.”

Kezuka and Naklo will be pairing up for the first time, with Naklo qualifying for the ITA Fall National Championships last year with Christin Hsieh. 

Kezuka paired up with Ange Oby Kajuru last season, with the pair going 17-3 in the No. 3 doubles spot in the spring.

Kadleckova and Kezuka will split ways in doubles, with the Japanese pairing up with Naklo for the first time while the Slovakian will team up with Kajuru. 

Kajuru and Naklo were both named to the ITA’s preseason top-125 players list in early September, No. 80 and 39, respectively.

As in singles, Kezuka and Kadleckova’s strategy in the doubles discipline seemed to be more centered around stretching their opponents across the wider court dimensions. 

“As a team we wanted to do more poaching,” she said of the partnership. “We wanted to be more aggressive; we were not scared to hit the ball. Usually, the coaches want us to hit more volleys cross-court, but we wanted to make our opponents move more [across the court].”

That strategy of poaching, or intercepting shots at the net to kill points faster, was also used against sophomore Anna Supaptich Kuearum in her semifinal match at the West Texas Pro Tennis Open.

After advancing to the semis through walkovers in the first two rounds, Kuearum and Kajuru faced off against top seeds Chieh-Yu Hsu and Maria Kononova, with the match going to a “super-tiebreak” third set. Kuearum and Kajuru lost out in the 10-point set 10-7 as the No. 1 seeds moved onto the final.

“They just poached a lot,” Kuearum said of the Hsu and Kononova’s strategy, “We just weren’t ready that they were going to do that. The first two sets, they didn’t poach that much, but really did a lot in the tiebreak.”

Kuearum will be playing doubles again, pairing up for the first time with junior Sofia Cabezas. The Venezuelan native had a strong outing last year in doubles, finishing the season ranked 85th in the country with Kadleckova after the pair became the first Cyclone doubles pairing to qualify for the NCAA Championships. 

The tournament in Berkeley will be Cabezas’ first of the year, and she, like Kuearum and Hsieh, will also play in the singles draw.

Kuearum, who didn’t see that much playing time last season as a freshman, will get her first taste of collegiate tennis this season after playing in the professionally-dominated West Texas Open, where she lost in the first round of qualifying to Kajuru.

For Kuearum, the trip out West to the Golden State will be more than just about tennis.

“It’s exciting,” she said, “I just want to look around and see how it’s different from Iowa.”

The Cal Fall Invitational, which will see the Cyclones face off against players from 14 other teams around the country, kicks off Friday at the Hellman Tennis Complex and Channing Tennis Courts. A live stream of the matches on the Hellman courts can be accessed here, with live stats also being provided through the team’s athletics department website.

The ITA All-American Championships are set to commence Saturday, with the first rounds of pre-qualifying singles taking place. 

Qualifying draw matches will start next Monday and carry over into Tuesday. The main draw matches carry out the remainder of next week, finishing off with the finals Oct. 9. All matches will take place at Cary Tennis Park in Cary, North Carolina.