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Tennis falls short in conference tournament semifinals

Tennis falls short in conference tournament semifinals

Tennis falls short in conference tournament semifinals
April 22
14:43 2019

North Texas tennis entered the 2019 Conference USA Tournament as a fifth seed with eyes on a championship. However, the team made it to the semifinals of the tournament before falling to Old Dominion 4-0 on Saturday, falling short of their championship dream. 

“We had them on the ropes in doubles on all three courts,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “They somehow flipped that equation and they got the doubles point. When that happened, we just did not have enough left in the tank physically, emotionally and mentally.”

The Mean Green were on their third straight day of play on Saturday, beating Alabama-Birmingham 4-0 to advance on the tournament’s first day.

“It’s always a little tricky when you have an opponent that’s injured and they are short-handed,” Lama said. “You still have to be focused because, at the end of the day, you still need four points to win the match.”

North Texas started that match up 2-0 before opening play due to Alabama-Birmingham’s shortcomings. Seniors Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze won the one doubles match needed to secure the point and Lama said he felt they set the tempo for the rest of the team during singles play.

“In singles, it was a battle,” Lama said. “Alex [Heczey] really played one of her most complete matches of the year. For her to really jump into it and get the job done and get our kids rested for the next day, that was huge.”

Heczey clinched the win on Thursday with a 6-2, 6-1 victory in singles. North Texas moved on to play defending champions Florida International the next day.

“It was awful conditions with 34-35 mph winds,” Lama said. “We got off to a fast start in doubles, then we were down 3-1 and we were just basically hanging in there and fighting and fighting.”

That fight started to put the Mean Green back on track in the singles portion of the match. They tied Florida International 3-3 and left the match in the hands of sophomore Nidhi Surapaneni. In three sets she would defeat her opponent to earn North Texas the upset and a spot in the semifinals.

“[For the match] to come to Nidhi, the youngest one on our team,” Lama said. “For her to shoulder that match and embrace it and somehow pull it out against a really good player, it meant the world.”

Surapenini’s win was set up by Kutubidze and junior Ivana Babic also winning their singles matches to tie things up. The entire North Texas team would rush the court following Surapaneni clinching match.

“In my 24 years of college coaching I will put this as one of top five victories,” Lama said. “It was just absolutely thrilling.”

The win against Florida International took four hours to complete, Lama felt that the entire weekend had taken its toll on the Mean Green’s stamina by the time the team played on Sunday. They did not achieve their main goal at the tournament but did clinch a winning season for the program. That gave all North Texas sports teams winning seasons for the first time since 1978, according to a tweet from Athletic Director Wren Baker.

“Four of the last six years we’ve been in the semifinals of the Conference USA,” Lama said. “It shows that consistently, this is a program that’s always gonna be right up there and hopefully one of these years we can get past that and win a championship again.”

Featured Image: Junior Ivana Babic swings above her head during a match against Kansas State at the Waranch Tennis Complex on Feb. 15, 2019. Image by: Kara Dry. 

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Caleb Akpan

Caleb Akpan

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