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Maria Kononova breaking records and turning heads for Mean Green tennis

Maria Kononova breaking records and turning heads for Mean Green tennis

Tennis Player Maria Kononova poses for a outdoor portrait at the Waranch Tennis Complex Tuesday Mar.21, 2017

Maria Kononova breaking records and turning heads for Mean Green tennis
March 22
18:45 2017

As sophomore Maria Kononova makes her way towards the Waranch Tennis Complex she takes to a robotic, yet graceful style of serving. Each motion has a purpose.

Every single service is an exact replica of the previous. The setup is mechanical and the execution can be devastating for opponents.

Her feet stand parallel to the baseline, left toes rising at a high angle while her right foot stays flat behind her. She leans her towering body back and raises the ball in front of her stomach as it presses tightly against the strings of her racquet. Kononova flicks the ball high over head, never losing sight of it, drags her feet together, and bends her knees to add an extra kick. Once the ball falls to her desired height she brings her racquet behind her body and prepares for her attack.


Just as quickly as the tiny yellow ball whizzed by her opponent, she had won the match.

“We were really close and on my last serve I decided to just go for it,” Kononova said. “The previous matches [weren’t] that close, so I could always make up for it.”

Kononova tied the North Texas record for the most singles win for a player at the No. 1 spot on an ace, which was the exact same way she started that match. To sweeten the pot even more, Kononova knocked off long-time rival Anastasia Rychagova, who got the better of her last year and currently sits one spot ahead of Kononova in the national rankings.

“Since I started playing tennis she was always No. 1 at my age [group],” Kononova said. “We never played in the same tournaments because we were at different levels of our game. I always saw her playing and saw her results for the national team. I just wanted to win this time.”

Even though Kononova has dazzled so far this season, some coaches and universities were skeptical of her ability during the recruiting process.

Before she signed with the Mean Green in December 2015, Kononova was unsure of where she would continue her tennis career. At the time, her options were scarce. For a while, the only offer she received was from Conference USA foe Louisiana Tech University, who attempted to lure Kononova with the idea of pairing her with a Russian-speaking teammate to make her feel more at home.

Fortunately for North Texas, Louisiana Tech gave Kononova an extended period of time to contemplate her decision. Meanwhile, head coach Sujay Lama was focused on filling his last scholarship spot on a recruit ranked in the top 100 in the world.

But the deal fell through, paving the way for the then raw and inexperienced Konovona.

“You could see that she had all the tools,” Lama said. “You can see the movement. You can see the big forehand, and you can see that serve. The stellar results happened after we signed her. She went to a tournament and beat a player ranked in the top 500 or 600 in the world and we were going ‘wow, did we get lucky’”.

In the midst of a season plagued by blown leads, close losses and a myriad of injuries, Kononova has been the one constant for the Mean Green.

“Seeing her doing this motivates me because I’m playing next to her and she’s winning and I want to win too,” doubles partner Tamuna Kutubidze said. “She’s winning all these games. Not just for me, but all for all of [our] teammates. She really leads by example.”

Now after nearly two seasons at North Texas, Kononova sits atop the C-USA rankings as the No. 61 ranked player in the country. In spring play, she has accumulated a 7-4 record against top-125 ranked players and hasn’t lost to a non-ranked opponent this season.

For the 20-year-old Kononova, her drastic improvement from year one to two is a testament to the serious work ethic she puts herself through year round.

“During [the] summer I spend a lot of time with my coach [in Russia] working not only on my tennis, but on my conditioning,” Kononova said. “I didn’t waste my time during Christmas break, which obviously really helped me in the season because I pay a lot of attention to my fitness and my footwork.”

Even with the amount of success Kononova has had thus far, her ceiling is a long way from being reached. With constant aces and head turning volleys, Kononova and her coach know they have merely scratched the surface on what could be an illustrious career.

“I compare her to an iceberg,” Lama said. “There’s so much more. Every aspect: technical, tactical, mental, physical. So much is still down there and we need to bring it out.”

Featured Image: Tennis Player Maria Kononova poses for a outdoor portrait at the Waranch Tennis Complex Tuesday Mar.21, 2017. Robert Warren

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Cesar Valdes

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