Q&A: Tennis Freshman Maria Kononova
Russian Native Is Already Turning Heads As Mean Green's No. 1 Player
DENTON — Freshman Maria Kononova has been in the United States for less than seven months, but she’s already made quite an impact on the North Texas tennis team. Playing at the No. 1 spot for the Mean Green, Kononova has put together a 7-8 record and is 2-1 against top-125 players this season, numbers good enough to earn the freshman two Conference USA Player of the Week awards on the year.
MeanGreenSports.com (MGS) sat down with Kononova (MK) to learn a little more about the Russian sensation, her journey to North Texas and her adjustment to life as a student-athlete.
MGS: What age did you start playing tennis?
MK: “I started playing tennis at six years old. My parents took me to tennis school at an early age so I was pretty influenced to get into the game. I would go to practice three or four times a week. I even liked the sport then and I stayed involved with it as I came up.”
MGS: When did you know you wanted to play in college?
MK: “I didn’t really think I would go to college before last year when I was in high school, but my dad always told me that I would go to the U.S. to play college tennis. I didn’t know English or anything. I was really late for everything, but I started preparation for my exams, did the things I needed to do and now I’m here.”
MGS: How did you end up at North Texas?
MK: “It was really funny because Kamilla [Galieva] was here. I’ve known her for a long time and knew that she was in the States, but I didn’t know where. My coach who trains me in Russia worked in Germany at the same club as Coach Lama. He told me that Coach Lama was someone I could trust and learn from and so I reached out to get to know him.”
MGS: What is the relationship you have with teammate Kamilla Galieva?
MK: “I think I was 13 or 14 when I met her. In Ufa we had the same tennis coach. We would practice together before she left, and it was fun to see her and join her at North Texas.”
MGS: What has it been like adjusting to your new surroundings?
MK: “It was hard in the first couple of weeks, especially when I saw the nature here. It’s completely different than anything I’m used to in Russia. Now that I’ve traveled and seen some other universities, I like Denton. The most difficult part for me is my English, but I think I will continue to get better with time and practice.”
MGS: What do you miss most about home?
MK: “I miss my family and Russian foods.”
MGS: Have you noticed anything about your game since arriving at North Texas?
MK: “More than anything, I think I have potential. That’s what my coaches have always stressed to me and Coach Lama is doing the same. I really like to play and I enjoy it, so it’s not a burden for me to come early and do extra. I have to develop every part of my game, but I think I’m in the right place to do that.”
MGS: What are your ultimate goals in tennis?
MK: “I want to try to play professional tournaments. As far as my college career, I have a goal to take part in the NCAA Championship. If you win that, you get a wildcard spot into the U.S. Open, so I have four years to try for that. Why not?”
MGS: What kinds of things do you like to do away from tennis?
MK: “I like to read Russian literature. I seldomly watch movies, but I do enjoy TV series. Really your typical stuff.”
MGS: You’ve had quite a bit of early success in your career. Has that come as a surprise to you?
MK: “I’m not so surprised. I think I’ve done a good job here so far, but I don’t think it’s good enough. I’m not satisfied by any means, and I still think I’ve got to improve in a lot of areas.”
MGS: If you could play 1-on-1 with any tennis player ever, who would it be?
MK: “I think it would have to be against my favorite player, Rafael Nadal. But I might also choose Russian player Marat Safin. I really like the way Raf is playing now and I’ve been watching him as long as I’ve kept up with the sport. I really like his skills and style of play. For Marat Safin, it’s because he’s adorable. He’s so cute, and he played really well before he retired.”