Kutubidze Clinches 4-3 Win Over Iowa In Third Set Tiebreaker
Kutubidze Wins Tiebreaker 10-8
DENTON -- Saturday, the North Texas women's tennis team exemplified how great college tennis can be.
With the match on the line, her teammates on the other side of the fence cheering her on, every fan zeroed in on court No. 2, junior Tamuna Kutubidze willed her way through a back-and-forth third set tiebreak to win 10-8 and clinch the 4-3 win over Iowa.
"I knew everything was in my hands," Kutubidze said. "I was very confident."
Kutubidze and the Mean Green battled on every court to overcome losing the doubles point. Four of the six singles matches went to a third set and two of the Mean Green tennis players had to comeback from a first set loss to complete the win.
The match came down to Kutubidze after an agonizing three-set loss at No. 3.
Kutubidze, a power-player, had to adjust her game due to windy conditions but came back from a tough first set to win.
In the third set tiebreaker, Kutubidze took a 4-1 lead and looked like she was going to cruise to victory, but Iowa's Zoe Douglas came all the way back to tie it at five.
Kutubidze twice was serving for match point in the tiebreaker and twice was denied the victory. It wasn't until the 18th point that Kutubidze finished off her opponent to win by a score of 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8) and win the match for the Mean Green.
"This is why college tennis is so great," said head coach Sujay Lama. "At no other level can you get a tennis match like you we had today.
"I'm incredibly proud of the toughness of our team, it's our DNA," he added.
North Texas (3-1) began the match with a 2-1 loss in doubles. The Hawkeyes (3-2) clinched the doubles point with a 7-5 win over Kutubidze and Maria Kononova, the No. 36 ranked doubles team in the country and just their second loss in the last two years.
But the unfamiliar and uneasy tone following the doubles point didn't last long as the Mean Green won two quick singles matches to take a 2-1 lead.
The lead increased to 3-1 after freshman Nidhi Surapaneni came back from a first set loss to win her match 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-4 and gave UNT its 3-1 lead.
Quickly after Surapaneni won on court five, the Hawkeyes stormed back to tie the match with come from behind wins at No. 4 and No. 3.
Iowa multiple times faced match point at No. 3 in the second set but managed to hold off North Texas to eventually win in the third set.
"Iowa never gave up either," Lama said. "They never quit and let us relax."
As all eyes centered in on Kutubidze and court two, the once emotional power-player looked calm and confident as she put constant pressure on her Iowa opponent.
"Controlling my emotions is something I have worked on a lot," Kutubidze said. "I knew if I was calm I would win."
Even when her back was against the wall, Kutubidze never lost her composure.
"It's a great sign of maturity," Lama said. "She's played a ton of big matches the last three years so she's been in this position and knows what it takes."
As Kutubidze's drop shot was returned into in the net and the match was over, she finally showed some emotion as she dropped her racket, threw her arms in the air and grinned a smile of relief.
"This win was huge," Kutubidze said. "We are tougher, our conditioning is incredible and we feel so much more confident."
North Texas hits the road for a match at Kansas State on Feb. 9.
1. Yufei Long/Zoe Douglas (IOWA) def. #36 Maria Kononova/Tamuna Kutubidze (NT) 7-5
2. Elise van Heuvelen/Montana Crawford (IOWA) def. Nidhi Surapaneni/Sille Tranberg (NT) 6-2
3. Alexandra Heczey/Haruka Sasaki (NT) def. Adorabol Huckleby/Anastasia Reimchen
1. #42 Maria Kononova (NT) def. Elise van Heuvelen (IOWA) 6-4, 6-2
2. Tamuna Kutubidze (NT) def. Zoe Douglas (IOWA) 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10-8)
3. Yufei Long (IOWA) def. Minying Liang (NT) 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-1
4. Anastasia Reimchen (IOWA) def. Sille Tranberg (NT) 5-7, 6-3, 6-3
5. Nidhi Surapaneni (NT) def. Montana Crawford (IOWA) 6-7 (3-7), 6-1, 6-4
6. Haruka Sasaki (NT) def. Danielle Bauers (IOWA) 6-0, 6-2