Juniors Yana Khon and Alina Abdurakhimova have played many important matches in their tennis careers.
Their most memorable ones, however, may be the ones they played against each other back home in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.
“Yeah, she always won,” Khon said at Thursday’s practice.
“No,” Abdurakhimova responded with a laugh. “No, not really.”
Abdurakhimova and Khon both grew up in Tashkent. Like many Temple tennis players, they had to leave their homes and live on their own in a foreign country. Luckily, they had each other.
“I think it was easy because we came together,” Abdurakhimova said. “That made it so much easier.”
The two lived about 10 minutes from each other and did not go to the same school, but they knew each other through tennis and played against each other during breaks from school.
Coach Steve Mauro said it was their friendship through tennis that allowed both of them to come and play for the Owls. Mauro had been emailing Khon, who was being recruited by several top programs at the time, about playing for Temple. When he learned about her friend Abdurakhimova and her desire to study actuarial science at Temple, they were both offered spots on the Owls’ roster.
The two were with each other when they made their decision to come to Temple together.
“We found out that Temple had two available spots on the tennis team,” Abdurakhimova said. “We found out during practice, and we both wanted to go.”
Abdurakhimova and Khon’s relationship quickly changed from two Uzbekistani tennis players who “knew each other but weren’t good friends” to best friends and teammates. The two roomed together freshman year and helped each other through a transition phase that wasn’t easy, Mauro said.
“The first semester is a little bit difficult with the language, the expressions we use, the food, it takes them a while to get used to that,” Mauro said. “Usually it takes them about a semester.”
This transitional period for international students is something Mauro is very used to at Temple. In his nine years with the Owls, Mauro has recruited players from across the globe. In the process, he said he has made a lot of friends.
“I think we’ve probably been represented by about 30 different countries since I’ve been here so we have contacts all over the world,” Mauro said. “If you named a country, I could find someone to go ask about a player. I’ve been doing it for a while, and I’ve made a lot of connections around the world.”
While Mauro has recruited plenty of players from around the world during his time at Temple, it is still quite unusual for him to find two great players like Abdurakhimova and Khon from the same hometown.
Mauro said that their friendship allowed the two to feel more comfortable on the court and adjust to life in Philadelphia smoothly, and he feels “lucky” to have found both of them.
Abdurakhimova and Khon both have contributed significantly to Temple on and off the court during their two years as Owls. Khon finished the fall with a 15-3 singles record and played a crucial role in the team’s quarterfinal run at the American Athletic Conference tournament as a freshman in 2014-15. Last year, she finished the season with a 14-3 dual record and was named to the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll.
Abdurakhimova also had a standout 2014-15 season, posting a 19-5 singles record and being named American Athletic Conference Co-Freshman of the Year. Last season, she had a 14-7 record overall and was named to the President’s Honor Roll.
“They’re two really sweet girls, we’re lucky to have them,” Mauro said. “They do well in school and they do well on the court. If I could have a team full of girls from Uzbekistan, I would.”
Graham Foley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.