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Sophomores Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze becoming a dynamic duo for North Texas tennis

Sophomores Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze becoming a dynamic duo for North Texas tennis

Sophomore tennis players Tamuna Kutubidze (left) and Maria Kononova (right) pose for a photo. Kaitlyn St. Clair

Sophomores Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze becoming a dynamic duo for North Texas tennis
February 02
14:54 2017

It’s true: opposites attract.

At least that’s the case for two members of the Mean Green tennis team.

Sophomores Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze have teamed up to become North Texas’ most dynamic duo, and their personalities couldn’t be more different. Kononova, or ‘Masha,’ which is a Russian nickname for Maria, and Kutubidze, who head coach Sujay Lama dubbed as “Boom-Boom Tamu” after her devastating forehand strike, have impeccable chemistry.

They’re just nothing alike.

“She’s the fire,” Kononova said. “I’m the calmness.”

In their first doubles match in over three months, Kononova and Kutubidze did exactly what they’ve done since they arrived at North Texas — dominate their opponents. Against Michigan State, the duo controlled the match from the opening serve, and never allowed their opponents to catch their breaths in the 6-0 beat down.

Minutes later, Kutubidze was in her sweats and a large winter coat. Her day was over.

But even well after the match, her tension, her energy and most notably her nerves, were apparent. She can’t help it.

Kutubidze plays the game with an immense amount of emotion. It’s noticeable in every swing of her racquet and at the end of every point, whether it’s a deep exhale, a drop of her head or muttering gibberish under her breath.

Meanwhile, Kononova continued her quiet dominance on court one. What stood out the most in Kononova’s 6-0, 6-3 win wasn’t necessarily her exceptional play, but rather her unflappability. After every point, game, or set, Kononova kept the same demeanor, no matter the result. Cool, calm and composed.

That’s just who she is.

“I’ve heard already last year that I’m kind of mature for a freshman and now I’m a sophomore and people are still surprised,” Kononova said. “It’s just the way I was [raised], my parents taught me like that.”

Despite their differences in personalities, they’ve blended into what could eventually become North Texas’ greatest and most tenured No. 1 doubles team.

“They’re such dominant players and they have such high expectations,” Lama said. “We’ve told them it’s feasible in the next three years that they actually can be All-Americans and also have a shot at a national championship. That’s how good they are.”

As freshmen, Kononova and Kutubidze combined for a 12-6 record and helped their team reach the Conference USA semifinals where they were knocked off by Rice University.  They also added first-team all-Conference USA honors in both singles and doubles to their résumés, becoming the first freshman doubles team in North Texas history to earn that honor.

In their short time at North Texas, the young duo has already defeated two doubles teams ranked top 50 in the nation. They are currently No. 54 in the country themselves, with their highest win coming at the ITA All-American Championships where they beat Oklahoma State’s No. 36 ranked doubles team.

“Chemistry matters,” Lama said. “One’s more intense, fiery, one’s more laidback. It’s like yin and yang.”

Their success, however, did not come without their fair share of struggles.

Kutubidze, a native of Tsibili, Georgia, understood if she wanted to continue her dreams of playing tennis professionally, she would have to move to the United States.

“In my country there is a real horrible situation with everything, especially with sports,” Kutubidze said. “I just really [couldn’t] imagine myself at the age of 18 to just stop playing tennis, and if I stayed that’s what I had to do.”

Among the countless number of tennis scholarship offers Kutubidze received, she remembered seeing one from associate coach Jeff Hammond. For some reason unknown to Kutubidze herself, she committed to UNT.

“I don’t know why I came here to be honest, but I’m lucky.” Kutubidze said

As for Kononova, she faced a similar journey to UNT. Without any financial support in her homeland of Russia to continue playing tennis, she began seeking an opportunity elsewhere. Kononova was able to connect with Lama through her former coach who had worked beside him in Germany. Once Lama saw what he wanted in Kononova and offered her a scholarship, she was off to Denton.

When the two arrived in the U.S., homesickness began to sink in for the two.

“I had a bad time my first semester,” Kononova said. “I didn’t like anything. I wanted to go back home.”

It was with this shared hardship, along with their connection on the court, that led to their unbreakable bond. When asked which single person helped them the most, they immediately pointed towards the other.

“I think those two were probably the most incredible transition I have ever seen a freshman have,” Lama said. “They have the right mindset and when they came here nothing overwhelmed. Their personalities really helped the transition and they were best of friend’s right off the bat too, so they were able to feed off of each other.”

At times it seems as if the two are joined at the mind. They don’t need to speak very much on the court, but when they do they typically use their common Russian tongue, something they say works to their advantage.

“I’ve tried other combinations, but with her I don’t need to say anything,” Kutubidze said.

With just three games into the season, Kononova and Kutubidze currently hold a 2-0 record in doubles play and have their eyes set on building off their success from the previous year. The two have won 15 of their last 19 doubles matches, including dual and tournament play.

“First as a team win conference, then play in the NCAA team championship, as well ITA [All-American Championships],” Kononova said. “That’s what I’m looking for.”

Featured Image: Sophomore tennis players Tamuna Kutubidze (left) and Maria Kononova (right) pose for a photo. Kaitlyn St. Clair

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Cesar Valdes

Cesar Valdes

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