North Texas Daily

New doubles pairings giving tennis late-season spark

New doubles pairings giving tennis late-season spark

April 07
02:31 2016

Alex Lessard | Associate Sports Editor

@alexjlessard

For the North Texas tennis team, getting off on the right foot this season was a tough task to pull off. Four of its first five matches were on the road, and the Mean Green limped out of the gates to a 1-4 start.

Head coach Sujay Lama’s squad bounced back in a big way with four consecutive victories, but still could not seem to find a rhythm in doubles play. Through 15 matches, North Texas took the doubles point just five times.

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years, and honestly, it was kind of a new experience,” Lama said. “My teams have always taken pride in doubles and have always done really well in doubles. We’ve always been the ones that put the pressure on our opponents.”

As a result, Lama knew a change was needed. The Mean Green is now going with four brand new doubles teams in order to get back on track, pairing three of its freshman with senior and junior counterparts.

Lama said what he likes most about the new pairings is the mixture of youth and experience, especially with senior Agustina Valenzuela and freshman Tamuna Kutubidze. With four freshmen on this year’s roster, adapting to doubles play and staying consistent has been an ongoing battle.

“We started so well, but I think it’s still a freshman thing,” Kutubidze said. “We don’t know what to expect, and you’re a bit confused. But I think we’ll work it out and find a solution.”

Youth hasn’t been all that bad for North Texas, however. In fact, the best doubles pairing for North Texas this season features two freshmen – Kutubidze and Maria Kononova.

The duo got off to a blazing start on its way to an 8-6 record – something Kutubidze attributed to the chemistry between herself and her teammate.

Freshmen Tamuna Kutubidze (left) and Maria Kononova (right) congratulate each other after a point in their doubles match against Central Arkansas. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Freshmen Tamuna Kutubidze, left, and Maria Kononova congratulate each other after a point in their doubles match against Central Arkansas. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

“She can understand me, and I can understand her without saying a word,” Kutubidze said. “The movements I make, she can know where I’m going, like where I’m running or what I’m doing. If I was serving, she knew where I would serve.”

After dropping three doubles matches in a row in early March, Kutubidze asked Lama to switch up the pairings. Although she plans on playing with Kononova in doubles professionally this summer, she said she thought it was best if they took a break.

“At times, it can be stale playing with the same person the whole time,” Lama said. “Sometimes you just need some change.”

On the flip side, Valenzuela has grown accustomed to constant change. Kutubidze will be her fourth doubles teammate of the season.

Valenzuela said she prefers singles to doubles because she has more control of her performance, but has enjoyed her couple of weeks alongside her new doubles partner.

“I’m starting to figure out what she likes and what she doesn’t,” Valenzuela said. “But of course it’s more beneficial if you’ve been playing with her the entire year.”

Valenzuela has posted a 5-8 record with her three doubles partners but said dropping the doubles point has aided the team in a way. The Mean Green has gone on to win four matches after losing the doubles point this season.

“Maybe because we were in a hole, always having to fight and dig, we were able to bring our best in singles,” Lama said. “I think that’s when the freshmen have to mature quicker. You have really fight back as a group to win a match when you lose the doubles point.”

So far, the switch is working out just as Lama imagined it would. North Texas has earned the doubles point in two of its three matches since making the change, going 4-2 overall along with three unfinished contests.

As long as the new lineup continues to impress, Lama said he will not make any changes from the rest of the season all the way through the Conference USA tournament.

“Looking at the way they’ve come, the way they’ve meshed and the way they’re playing together, I’m very optimistic and positive that we’re going to be a force in doubles,” Lama said.

Featured Image: Freshman tennis player Maria Kononova laughs with teammate freshman Tamuna Kubtubidze during a practice. Courtesy | North Texas Athletics

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