North Texas Daily

After slow start, tennis hopes to mend early struggles in doubles

After slow start, tennis hopes to mend early struggles in doubles

February 28
19:50 2018

North Texas had one of the fiercest doubles teams in the country in the spring of 2017. Tamuna Kutubidze and Maria Kononova set the program record with 17 doubles wins and a .944 winning percentage.

Despite their achievements, head coach Sujay Lama decided to split the two juniors up a few matches into this 2018 spring season.

“They were a dominant force, but they played for two and a half years together,” Lama said. “That’s a long time to play with the same partner. We just thought it was time for change and so did they.”

Along with the possibility of looking for something new, the team’s struggles across the board in doubles gave Lama and the girls another reason to change it up in a hurry.

“We’re the same kind of player, so it was better to split me and [Maria] up so we would be more confident with doubles, and it’s working,” Kutubidze said.

Both players hoped to rub off effectively on their new doubles teammates. Kutubidze was paired with sophomore Alexandra Heczey while Kononova has been paired with a few players this year as Lama hopes to find the right partner.

“[Maria] has experience, I have experience,” Kutubidze said. “I’m playing with Alex who’s a power player too, and I can hit well with forehand, so it’s up to [Alex] if we’ll win the point or not.”

Heczey was excited to know she would be partners with Kutubidze. She looked forward to displaying her best performance so she could continue being Kutubidze’s double partner and continue to grow both individually and as a doubles team.

“Tamuna has a lot of experience, and she’s pretty confident which rubs off on me because I can get very intense,” Heczey said. “She has an amazing forehand which [allows] me to get easy balls that I can finish and get points in the match.”

While the chemistry between most doubles partners has been viewed successful in practice, it has often struggled in matches this year as the Mean Green are 5-15  (W-L) with a .215 winning percentage.

Heczey and Kutubidze have started off well, though, with a 2-1 record in doubles so far. Their most impressive victory came against No.7 Florida International University. They were also only one point away from beating Washington State University, but had it called after the Cougars picked up the double point.

While that pairing looks to be working, Lama continues to shuffle around his lineup to find more success from his other matches. He may have found what he was searching for against Marshall University as the Mean Green swept the Thundering Herd 4-0 and played their most complete match of the season.

The doubles lineup consisted of Heczey and Kutubidze at No. 1, Kononova and junior Minying Liang at No. 2 and freshman Nidhi Surapaneni and sophomore Haruka Sasaki at No. 3.

“The chemistry was great and they looked like they complemented each other really well. I’m gonna stick with this [lineup], and I really believe in this team,” Lama said. “We’ve faced tough opponents and we’re still competitive, especially in singles, so the psychological boost that we can get out of doubles is gonna be tremendous.”

After starting 0-4 in doubles play, Kononova may have finally found the right partnership with Liang after defeating the Marshall team 5-3 on Sunday.

Kononova also believes that playing against a weaker Marshall doubles team gave her and Liang a much needed confidence boost going forward.

“I played with Minying for the first time, and it was good to try [playing] with her,” Kononova said. “I really liked the way she played.”

Lama hopes that they can use this past week’s performance in doubles as a building block for the rest of the season as the team aims to put their troubles in the doubles court behind them.

“Sometimes struggles is what it takes for growth, and I think that’s what we saw here,” Lama said. “We know we have doubles players. It’s just a matter of finding it.”

Featured Image: North Texas sophomore Haruka Sasaki hits the ball during a match against Louisiana Tech on Jan. 27. Sara Carpenter

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Deondre Jones

Deondre Jones

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