Nebraska sophomore tennis player Kristina Novak has had a very successful 2021 season, making the All-Big Ten first team and competing as Nebraska’s No. 1 in singles and doubles.
During the offseason, she added to her list of achievements, winning the 2021 Slovenian National Championship in her home country in December.
Novak, the tournament’s fifth seed, beat the top three seeds in his last three rounds to claim the nation’s crown. Novak had already won the Under-12, Under-14 and Under-18 categories, with the women’s championship rounding out her collection. She had already participated in the women’s championship when she was younger and had recently lost in the quarter-finals in 2020.
“My biggest thing was being relaxed throughout the tournament and knowing that I can rely on my game,” Novak said. “Knowing that I can perform like I know has led me to beat all of my opponents.”
The national tournament took place just five days after Novak returned from Nebraska. With less than a week to prepare and adjust to a seven-hour jet lag, mental preparation was just as important as tennis skills to claim the impressive win. Novak’s victory was a big confidence boost, and she is now looking to repeat and improve on her successful start.
Novak’s doubles partner, sophomore Maja Makoric, is also Slovenian and has faced Novak before before arriving in Nebraska. They exchanged contact information after that game, which later resulted in Novak bringing Nebraska to Makoric as she watched colleges in the United States.
Now the couple have developed a close friendship and become roommates. The chemistry exists on the court, too, with Novak and Makoric being the Huskers’ highest-ranked doubles team for the past two seasons.
“We both come from Slovenia, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why we play so well, because we have the same energy,” Makoric said. “I can understand her a little better than the others.”
Beyond the Slovenian connection, Makoric credits Novak’s consistent positive attitude and willingness to change strategy mid-game as driving the pair’s success. They developed strategically together, now using formation changes and aggressive positioning near the net to keep the opposition off balance.
Chemistry and strategies, combined with positive attitudes and mutual pick-me-up when down, helped them remain Nebraska’s top doubles team for a second straight season. The duo’s current goal is to qualify for their first NCAA championship.
An individual goal for Novak’s second season is to win more games against ranked opponents, a task she will have plenty of opportunities to accomplish in the teeth of the Big Ten schedule. So far, Novak has managed to achieve that goal, beating Furman’s 45th-ranked Julia Adams on Jan. 30.
“She has this tough competition all the time, so she’s used to it,” Nebraska women’s tennis associate head coach Lisa Hart said. “We have so much parity in our squad, anyone can beat anyone on any given day, so she trains a lot in training.”
A key part of Novak’s game is aggressive play, something that developed early in his tennis career. This style helped her win youth tournaments in Slovenia and gave her a competitive edge as she transitioned into more experienced players.
“I’ve never been the type of person to step back and run and throw the ball back downfield,” Novak said. “I want to hit winners and be a power player.”
Although Hart has noticed Novak’s signature aggressive style, it’s far from the only facet of his game that impresses him. In a time when Novak is lagging in a match, she frequently uses heavy rotations, slashing shots, and a wide variety of moves that she can utilize when she needs to deviate from her main strategy.
After the season, Novak hopes to compete in more international tournaments at the professional level, before returning to Lincoln for another season, trying to hone his skills to one day play full-time professionally.
As a sophomore in her third year, Novak has several years of experience in the top spots in singles and doubles and is becoming a leader in training due to her upbeat attitude. Her positivity and work ethic made her a natural fit as a team leader, and her performance against top-level competition helps her achieve her future goals.
“The sky’s the limit for her,” Hart said. “He’s a very special person.”