By Mark Jezek
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
From a young age German native Patrick Pradella began working towards being an elite tennis player. As an infant, his parents laid him in the yard with an array of athletic options.
“My parents put every type of ball there is out there in front of me,” Pradella said. “I picked the tennis ball.”
By the age of three, Pradella was growing fond of the sport and had even figured out a way to practice by himself. He began using the baby tennis racket his parents had given him to hit balls off the wall of his house. Just a few years later, Pradella figured he would try his hand at the local tennis club.
“When I was five my mom took me to the tennis club that was near my house and they told me I couldn’t play until I was six, but he said he wanted to see what I could do,” Pradella said “We played on the half court and I didn’t miss a ball out of 50 and he said he had never seen something like that. He asked me to come back every week.”
Pradella continued to perfect his game. He started playing competitively just a year later, but quickly realized there was more to the game than just being able to return a ball.
“When I was younger I wasn’t very good,” Pradella said. “I was always tall, but I didn’t move that well. I got beat a lot because there were guys who could run and get to balls. I always lost patience and would miss and lose to guys who would play high over the net because I would lose my nerves. When I turned 16 things changed a little bit as I started to mature. I got more consistent in my strokes and began to get better.”
As time passed, Baylor recruited one of Pradella’s longtime friends, Lars Behlen who grew up in Munster, Germany, just over an hour away from Pradella’s hometown of Bielefeld. Behlen asked Pradella if he would be interested in traveling to the United States to compete in college tennis.
“When Lars decided to come to Baylor he asked me if I would want to come too and I said no,” Pradella said. “At that point, I still wanted to be in Germany.”
A year after Pradella had rejected the idea of playing in the United States, he had the opportunity to play with the German national team at the Tennis World Cup in France.
“We played the American team in the first round and I thought they were pretty cool,” Pradella said. “They all wore the same stuff and did the same stuff. They had a lot of team spirit and I thought that might be pretty fun.”
Following the World Cup in France, Pradella reached out to Behlen and asked if Baylor would have any interest in allowing him to play with the team in the next season.
“I remember one day Lars coming into my office and telling me that Pat was interested in doing a semester abroad,” said assistant coach Dominik Mueller. “That is how the whole thing started for us. We reached out to him and that summer Coach Knoll and I went to visit him in Germany. From the beginning it was just a one semester deal.”
After being awarded two years of eligibility by the NCAA, the stage was set for Pradella to travel to the United States to begin his collegiate career at Baylor.
“I actually didn’t come into it with a focus on tennis,” Pradella said. “It was more about the advantages for my future. I never thought I would improve as much as I have here. I just thought it was great that I could come here and experience all of these things and play tennis at the same time.”
As the 2013 dual-match season started, Pradella began to grow, not only as a player, but as a locker room presence.
“I don’t think I have ever seen someone mature and grow as much as he did in such a short time,” said Mueller. “He established himself as a leader on this team. It is not so much the wins he has or the position in the lineup, but also his demeanor off the court. He understands what it takes to win a championship.”
Only two months into his semester-long stay, Pradella had fallen in love with the college game. Following a 4-3 upset win on the road against No. 16 Florida, Pradella knew he wanted to return to Baylor for the 2014 season.
“We think it is pretty awesome here at Baylor,” head coach Matt Knoll said. “I call it paradise and I think it really is. We have some of the best facilities in the country and a great university and just a fantastic environment. I don’t see why you would want to leave. We always hoped that he would come back and play another year and I think when he stared to meet some people and make some connections here that it would be pretty easy for him to decide to come back.”
The Bears have enjoyed the presence of Pradella in the 2014 dual-match season. Pradella is the only player to play in all 28 matches this season. He has compiled an impressive 20-9 record in singles play this season including an 11-5 mark in dual match play with no win bigger than his Big 12 Championship clinching victory over Oklahoma’s sixth-ranked Axel Alvares Llamas.Pradella has made the most of what began as a semester study abroad program. In just three semesters, he has built relationships and memories that will last him a lifetime while also establishing himself as one of the more decorated student-athletes in Baylor men’s tennis.