Miami women’s tennis downs Columbia in first-ever college match at Miami Open

Fourth-year junior Daevenia Achong returns a ball during her singles win over Columbia sophomore Anna Zhang at the Miami Open on Friday, April 1, 2022.
Fourth-year junior Daevenia Achong returns a ball during her singles win over Columbia sophomore Anna Zhang at the Miami Open on Friday, April 1, 2022. Photo credit: Alex Carnochan

It was the kind of day one could only dream about.

In a surreal experience, No. 6 Miami faced No. 58 Columbia at Hard Rock Stadium in the first-ever college tennis match at the Miami Open.

Playing in front of the largest crowd of the season, the Canes capitalized on their unique opportunity, dominating Columbia, 6-1, on a hot and humid Friday afternoon.

“This experience was amazing for college tennis,” Miami head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said. “To bring any team in here, to play in this environment is incredible. I think it puts an element of excitement into what we’re doing, and I think that every kid needs that. I’m really happy with the outcome, with the crowd, with everything.”

The venue was jaw-dropping. Miami (11-3, 7-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) fought Columbia (10-8, 0-1 Ivy) on Courts 8-13, adjacent to the fan village, a makeshift area just outside Hard Rock Stadium where spectators could relax in between matches. With fountains, food vendors and patches of turf, it was the perfect place for fans to soak up the sun and get a quick bite to eat.

After taking in the incredible atmosphere, the Hurricanes went to work, winning two of three doubles matches to secure the first point.

On Court 9, third-year sophomores Maya Tahan and Diana Khodan, ranked No. 62, set the tone, with Tahan effortlessly using her backhand at the net to slam the ball cross-court for the first point. From there, they cruised, notching an impressive 6-1 win over Winta Tewolde and Anna Zhang.

Third-year sophomore Diana Khodan returns the ball during her singles match against Columbia junior Michelle Xu at the Miami Open on Friday, April 1, 2022.
Third-year sophomore Diana Khodan returns the ball during her singles match against Columbia junior Michelle Xu at the Miami Open on Friday, April 1, 2022. Photo credit: Alex Carnochan

Sophomores Audrey Boch-Collins and Isabella Pfennig finished next, winning four games in a row after being down 3-2 to clinch the doubles point against Shivani Amineni and Jennifer Kerr, 6-3.

The next match lasted an additional twenty minutes, as Miami’s duo of fifth-year senior Eden Richardson and fourth-year junior Daevenia Achong, ranked No. 20, narrowly lost to Akanksha Bhan and Melissa Sakar, 7-6 (7-5).

In singles, the Canes took five of six matches, with the lone loss featuring a lengthy tiebreaker.

Khodan blazed past Michelle Xu, 6-1, 6-1, in possibly her best performance of the year, to put Miami up 2-0. Next, No. 52 Achong, who was coming off Co-ACC Player of the Week honors after defeating two top-20 opponents last weekend, continued her stellar play, downing Zhang, 6-2, 6-3, to tack on another point.

“I’ve been playing great, just trying to keep that up, keep that going for the team,” Achong said.

Up 3-0, No. 64 Pfennig sealed the match, besting Kerr in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2. Moments later, Boch-Collins extended UM’s lead to five by finishing off Julia Haynes, 6-0, 6-3.

The two remaining matches were incredibly tight.

On Court 11, Tahan battled Sakar, taking the first set before losing the second. However, in the tiebreaker, she found her footing, scoring ten consecutive times to give Miami its sixth and final point of the match, 6-4, 3-6, 1-0 (10-0).

Third-year sophomore Maya Tahan prepares to rally a ball against Columbia singles opponent Melissa Sakar at the Miami Open on Friday, April 1, 2022.
Third-year sophomore Maya Tahan prepares to rally a ball against Columbia singles opponent Melissa Sakar at the Miami Open on Friday, April 1, 2022. Photo credit: Alex Carnochan

It took 25 more minutes for the last match of the day to finish, with No. 46 Richardson falling to Bhan, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (9-7), in a close contest that featured two tiebreakers. It didn’t matter, though, as Miami handily won, 6-1.

“I think we’ve all been putting in the work, off the court and on the court, but definitely in practice,” Achong said. “I think everybody’s working hard and it pays off when we need it to pay off.”

With the loss, No. 58 Columbia, thought to be an Ivy League powerhouse towards the beginning of the year after winning 10 of its first 13 matches, is now on a four-game skid. The Canes, on the other hand, secured their eighth victory against a ranked opponent this season.

Prior to Friday’s contest, Miami split a pair of top-10 matches last weekend, losing to No. 1 North Carolina, 6-1, before bouncing back against No. 10 Duke, 4-3, two days later. The Hurricanes were rewarded for their effort with a three-spot jump in the ITA poll, moving to No. 6 – their highest ranking in six years.

After Sunday’s victory against the Blue Devils, the build-up to Friday’s match began, as the Hurricanes went to the Miami Open and began visualizing themselves on the courts where their idols were competing.

“When I watched it, I thought about how [it would be] to play there,” Tahan said. “It gets you more motivated to see the level that the players [who play there are at, knowing] you are going to play there in the same week.”

On Wednesday, Miami practiced at Hard Rock Stadium for the first time and was blown away at the spectacle.

“We all think it’s really cool, I don’t think there is another team that does something like that,” Tahan said.

Then, on Friday, the opportunity of a lifetime arrived, and the Canes made sure to take advantage of it.

Next up, Miami resumes ACC play with a road match against Notre Dame (10-8, 3-5 ACC) on Friday in Indiana at 3:30 PM.