North Texas Daily

Senior doubles pairing continues to thrive for tennis

Senior doubles pairing continues to thrive for tennis

Senior doubles pairing continues to thrive for tennis
February 21
00:52 2019

At the beginning of February, head tennis coach Sujay Lama returned to a doubles lineup that paired seniors Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze together again. The duo had competed with one another previously for quite some time, setting a single-season record for doubles wins in 2017 with 24.

Now, after experimenting with switching their skills to two different doubles pairs, Lama has put his senior stars back together and the results have not changed.

“They’ve battled so many times,” Lama said. “I don’t think there’s any other team in the country that has played as many matches together. They know each other’s moves, they know what to do, what can happen and it’s a beautiful thing.”

So far, the doubles team is undefeated in this spring at 4-0. They have won by a combined score of 24-5, allowing one point or less in three of the matches.

Kononova and Kutubidze began playing together their freshman year. Lama said he saw an unprecedented skill level in the two that made the pairing work and thrive at a fast pace.

Then sophomores doubles partners Tamuna Kutubidze and Maria Kononova pose for a picture during a break at practice. File.

“Their freshman year we were in Midland,” Lama said. “[It was a] big tournament and we were like ‘Oooh, wow.’ This is a team that could one day have a shot at a national championship. Just their raw talent is what really stood out.”

The two seniors also remember that day in Midland, but for a different reason. Prior to them finishing in the finals of that tournament, they say Lama considered splitting the team and playing different doubles lineups.

“He wanted to split the team,” Kutubidze said. “I really didn’t even understand why in the world he would want to split us because from the beginning I think it was a perfect pair.”

The two would not split then, but Lama would separate them earlier this year in an attempt to stretch their skills. Kononova played with fellow senior Minying Liang and they won their first four matches together, while Kutubidze alternated between different underclassmen partners.

“I think they really appreciate each other having that break,” Lama said. “They go, ‘Holy cow, I had something special and magical.’ It’s not like that with every other player.”

Lama feels that the two together are just as good as any doubles team in the country. After spending time trying to adjust to new partners, getting back together was no issue for the players. 

UNT senior Maria Kononova plays a doubles match with senior Minying Liang against Abilene Christian University on Jan. 15, 2019. Image by Will Baldwin.

“I noticed a couple times when I played with Minying when it was her shot I would yell, ‘You,’ but I would yell it in Russian,” Kononova said. “I kept screaming in Russian to her and she had no clue what I wanted from her.”

Kononova and Kutubidze said they don’t even have to talk on the court most matches. Their chemistry is successful enough that the two are contemplating playing together even after their careers for the Mean Green are over.

“We might play professionally,” Kutubidze said. “If there are tournaments in Georgia, [Maria] will come this summer and play with me.”

The two said they may also play together here in the U.S. Even if they do stick together May will bring their last doubles match as members of the North Texas team. The pair hopes they’ve left a legacy that future players will be able to look up to.

“I think we just want to elevate the program,” Kononova said. “[We want to] make it a better place than when we came here to attract more people.”

Barring the lineup change, the two still have 11 matches to go before their doubles pairing possibly comes to an end. Official stats have yet to be updated but as of last season, their 55 wins together were the second most in program history.

“You look at their history,” Lama said. “They go out there and nine out of 10 times they’re gonna be victorious. Doubles is not just about talent, it’s about partnership.”

Featured Image: Senior doubles pair Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze encourage each other during their doubles match against Arizona. Image by Adriance Rhoades. 

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Caleb Akpan

Caleb Akpan

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