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Tennis duo gain experience on national stage in California

Tennis duo gain experience on national stage in California

Doubles partners Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze pose for a picture during a break at practice. Sara Carpenter

Tennis duo gain experience on national stage in California
October 11
19:42 2016

As freshmen, the duo of Tamuna Kutubidze and Maria Kononova defeated No. 48 Rice University 6-3. The win validated plenty for the tandem, and put the Mean Green back in national contention.

Now sophomores, Kutubidze and Kononova are established stars in Conference USA. Having made first team C-USA last season, the door opened for several major tournament invitations.

One of those was to the ITA All-American tournament in Los Angeles, California – an invitation coaches Sujay Lama and John Hammond were not surprised came in. From the start, they expected these two to make a splash on the national stage.

“[We] saw something special from the beginning,” Hammond said. “They’ve continued to enjoy playing together and chemistry means everything and they’ve had it since the beginning.”

In their first match, Kutubidze and Kononova faced a team from Oregon University. They were able to hang in, but eventually lost 8-5.

The following day, the girls rebounded with an intense 8-7 win over the 36th ranked team in the country from Oklahoma State University. According to their coaches, the tie-breaking win depicted Kutubidze and Kononova’s fortitude and determination.

“It was a big tournament [for us],” Kutubidze said. “We were nervous in the first match, but in the second match we just had fun and beat Oklahoma State.”

This tournament evoked a sense of excitement and optimism from the two girls. Going from uncertain freshmen to powerhouse sophomores is a huge step, especially mentally.

Kutubidze and Kononova now return to Denton with a firm understanding of where they are and what they need to do to improve on. The tedious drills and conditioning are now being focused to hone in on what they struggled with during the tournament.

“We were able to see the most dominant players in college,” Kononova said. “We can say that we are not far away from them. We just have to keep working.”

Their attendance and results at the tournament have implications for the entire roster. With their play in Los Angeles, Kutubidze and Kononova’s teammates can see where they are in terms of ability, and can also practice with, and against, the two girls on a daily basis.

The matches continue to develop players and help them grow, which Hammond already sees in practices. Their exposure can aid their teammates in getting to these major tournaments in the future.

“It’s nice to have a couple of players attend the event,” Hammond said. “The goal is to have everybody there eventually. On this team, in practice, everybody can play with everybody. So it really just helps everyone else’s confidence as well.”

The team as a whole ended last year ranked 73rd in the nation, the highest since 2013, when they finished 60th.

Despite this, Kutubidze and Kononova were left out of the top-60 rankings for doubles in the country.

With the opportunity to show everyone what they can do, the two girls began relishing the opportunity to prove people wrong.

“They found out what we already knew,” Hammond said. “They’re as good as anybody in the country. Playing in that event, and playing well, [shows] they can play with anybody. And that just builds their confidence as their resume gets better.”

Both Kononova and Kutubidze are exceptional singles players as well, which leads well to their success on the expanded doubles court.

But doubles is a much more reactionary and methodical than singles.  Instead of just worrying about themselves, Kutubidze and Kononova are required to always be on the same page.

Between points, the two come together to discuss where to serve, whether to poach or come to the net. And even though doubles is more complex than singles, the duo enjoys the challenge.

“It’s faster action,” Kononova said. “In singles, you don’t play a lot of volleys. So you have to make quick decisions. Sometimes you just don’t think and hit a volley and you’re surprised, [like] ‘wow, how did I do that?’”

The ITA All-American tournament contained several teams from the ITA top-60 rankings. After returning from Los Angeles and competing against some of the best, one thing became evident.

“If we just try to have fun on the court, we can play with anybody,” Kutubidze said.

Featured Image: Doubles partners Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze pose for a picture during a break at practice. Sara Carpenter

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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