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Kutubidze, Kononova highlight opening weekend for Mean Green tennis

Kutubidze, Kononova highlight opening weekend for Mean Green tennis

Kutubidze, Kononova highlight opening weekend for Mean Green tennis
September 27
00:33 2018

The North Texas tennis team started their 2018-2019 season on a high note with senior Tamuna Kutubidze highlighting the weekend for the Mean Green as she captured the singles championship at the Rice Invite.

Kutubidze started off her singles tournament on Friday with an upset win in straight sets over Alabama’s Andie Daniell, who is currently ranked No. 70 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association preseason poll. The victory over Daniell was the highest ranked opponent Kutubidze had ever defeated.

Saturday was filled with severe weather delays for all tennis matches taking place at the Rice Invite. Kutubidze had to start and stop play several times in her match against Southern Methodist’s Karina Traxler before it was finally suspended with Kutubidze leading 6-3, 5-5 (40-30).

She returned to the court on Sunday to finish off Traxler and move to the championship round against South Florida’s Ana Roman Dominguez.

Kutubidze claimed the title in a three-set match, with the scores of 6-4, 6-7 and 6-3.

“This was the best tournament so far that I played within these three years,” said Kutubidze to meangreensports.com. “I was very consistent with wins. I was confident — I moved well, even though there were moments when my intensity would drop a bit, but I was able to manage my game.”

Head tennis coach Sujay Lama said Kutubidze set the tone for the rest of the Mean Green tennis team this weekend.

“For Tamuna to have that tournament as a senior is incredible,” Lama said. “It gives everybody else more confidence. She had three wins over very talented competitors and I think that set the tone for the rest of the team to do a good job.”

The tennis team competed in the Rice Invite in Houston on Saturday, and Lama said he is proud of the way the Mean Green women competed during their first tournament of the year. He hopes that this is just the start of what could be a great season.

“Our team grew this weekend, no doubt about it,” Lama said. “I was so pleased to see how competitive they were.”

Sophomore Nidhi Surapaneni was able to claim the seventh flight championship for the Mean Green, while also battling bad weather to win three straight singles matches.

Surapaneni was able to rally back in her first two matches after dropping the opening set in both matches. She defeated a Texas State opponent in the opening round and an Oklahoma opponent in the semifinals round, which put her in the seventh flight championship match against Stephen F. Austin’s Darinka Tiboldi.

Surapaneni was able to win her third straight match after defeating Tiboldi 6-1, 5-7 and 10-7.

There were six North Texas women who traveled to Rice to compete in the three-day event, and they won 19 of the 28 total matches.

The Mean Green will be returning all eight players from last year’s team, including all-conference players in Kutubidze, Minying Liang and Maria Kononova.

Kononova, a senior, earned a No. 43 national ranking in the preseason poll. Because she was the highest ranked player in Conference USA, Kononova was one of 32 women selected to compete in the 2018 Oracle ITA Masters Championship over the weekend in Malibu, California.

Despite making history, Kononova lost in the first round of the ITA Masters to Southern Cal’s Salma Ewing. It was her first match of the year and her first match back from an injury she sustained in the spring.

Although she was knocked out of the winners’ bracket after one match, head tennis coach Lama was positive that competing in this national tournament was a stepping stone in the right direction and that Kononova will be back in form sooner than later.

“It was great to see Maria healthy again,” Lama said. “We’ve been resting her shoulder and she has been rusty, but she still gave a great fight and she had a great attitude the whole time. We know that she is going to get back to where she was or even better, but just to see her enjoy the game and watch her play without pain was just awesome.”

The Mean Green will compete in some of the largest and most competitive tournaments in the nation, including the ITA All-American, the National Fall Championship and the UNLV Invite.

When the spring rolls around North Texas will host 12 dual matches and welcome top-tier programs such as Arizona, Kansas State and Tulsa.

Lama said that the upcoming season should be a great one.

“I am very, very excited for this season,” Lama said. “No. 1, we have a veteran team who has really matured over the past year. No. 2, this team has a chip on their shoulder.”

Last season the Mean Green fought through what would be a really tough year, with the injury to Kononova and some of the inexperience on the team. They made what they could out of it, reaching the C-USA semifinals during the conference tournament.

“Last year we had everything thrown at us when it comes to adversity and injuries,” Lama said. “They want to prove to everybody and to themselves that last year was just a tough year, and I can sense that in every practice they are wanting to do very well this year.”

Featured Image: Junior Haruka Sasaki at a practice singles match. Sasaki hails from Fujisawa, Japan and was named a 2018 ITA All-Academic Scholar-Athlete. Rachel Walters

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Bronte Hermesmeyer

Bronte Hermesmeyer

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