At the Net with Maria Belen Ludueña and Maria Jose Cardona

Chile natives and long-time friends, sophomore Maria Jose Cardona and junior Maria Belen Ludueña, have traveled over 5,200 miles to Lawrence, Kan., to pursue their tennis dreams. While the pair, Cote and Belen to their friends, were regulars on the International Tennis Federation circuit and attended the same tennis academy, the duo had only played doubles together once before coming to KU. This season, Cardona and Ludueña found themselves paired up on the court for the first time in years and discovered that their friendship could be a success on and off the court. The tandem has gone 18-1,1 including a six match win streak at the beginning of spring in 2014.

Q: When did you both meet?
Maria Jose Cardona: That was probably in 2008 in when we first met. We met at a tournament actually. She was from a different city and then she came to Santiago where I live now and she started practicing at the same academy. 
Maria Belen Ludueña: We have a group of friends and we all hung out together and now everyone is in different places, but we still talk and it’s really nice.

Q: Did Belen coming to KU effect Cote’s choice to come to Kansas?
MBL: She was asking me about it and I told her about how different it is and how good it is here and she kind of said, ‘Okay, I’ll trust you.’
MJC: She had a pretty big influence on me coming to KU, because it was someone that I knew. I knew I could trust her and that she was telling me the truth. So when KU offered me a scholarship, I started asking questions, like how it was. After coming here, I love it. She was right!

Q: Before KU did you play doubles together?
MJC: Yeah, we played once.
MBL: Because she’s younger than me. I was Under 18 and she was Under 16. But we played one tournament, I think we did well?
MJC:  I think we did pretty well.
MBL: It was in the ITF, I think we lost maybe in the semifinals.

Q: Why do you think coach decided to put you two together this year after not playing together last year?
MBL: I would say because we’re friends and we know each other. We play different styles, so that makes the team better. She’s really strong and has a really good shot, and I have good hands at the net. I feel like we complement each other on the court.
MJC: Well, to be honest, I had no idea why coach put us together. I actually told her, ‘I don’t know why we’re playing together. I don’t think we’re that good (together).’ She still makes fun of me for that. But after a while we started complimenting each other and working together as a team, so now we know how to play.

Q: Do you feel that being close friends helps when playing together?
MBL: Yeah, because we can talk about stuff that you wouldn’t talk to someone about. So if something is bothering you and if you’re partner is doing something, maybe not seeing a mistake…
MJC: We have the confidence to tell each other what we feel, so that makes for a better team.

Q: Do you think playing doubles this year has brought you closer?
MBL: You see, we live together, we play together and we even have class together – so I think we are really close.

Q: How long have you lived together?
MBL: Since she got here.
MJC: I’m not going to lie; sometimes we want to kill each other!
MBL: It’s okay, we understand each other.

Q: What competition do you like more: doubles or singles?
MBL: I used to have a big preference for playing singles, but now I feel really confident in doubles.
MJC: I would say the same thing. In the beginning, I would have told you definitely singles. But now I have worked so much in doubles that I feel more confident.

Q: Do you feel that coach really emphasized doubles this season?
MBL: Before coming to Kansas, we didn’t even practice doubles, just singles – with a partner. So now we actually learn how to play doubles. Which is why we now feel confident.

Q: How confident do you feel going into the Big 12 Championship?
MBL: I feel ready. I feel although we’ve had tough losses lately, we still have the tennis. If we just put it all together I think we can do well.

Q: How has the team matured since last year at the championship?
MBL: We’ve gained confidence. Even though we lost, we still believe we can do it, and last year we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s try…’
MJC: ‘Let’s see how it goes…’
MBL: You can see that we actually believe because if we lose we care, we feel it – we’re disappointed. If we lose, it’s not like, ‘Oh it’s fine.’ We feel it.
MJC: We didn’t have any expectations. Now we have a goal in mind and we’re going for it.

Q: Do you think coming in as an eight seed is positive for the team’s mentality?
MBL: I think it’s good. We get to play without pressure. We don’t have anything to lose, so you can just play your tennis.

Q: What was your favorite moment from this season?
MLB: For me, I would say Houston, because it was a really hard day, it was really windy, I didn’t play my best tennis, even external things like I was fighting with the referees and even then I overcame all that and won the match. We were 3-0, and I won the match so we won the match. I was really excited about it, even though it was a really hard day.
MJC: I would agree with that match, but after Nebraska. I think as a team we were really happy. It was the first time we beat a ranked team, so we were really happy about that. I think that match gave us the confidence to keep going.

Cardona, Ludueña and the Kansas women’s tennis team will begin Big 12 Championship play with a match against Iowa State at the Bayard H. Friedman Tennis Center in Fort Worth, Texas, at 10 a.m., April 24.