Miami women’s tennis advances to ACC semifinals, survives Georgia Tech in four-hour thriller

Fourth-year junior Daevenia Achong prepares for a match against Syracuse on Friday April 15, 2022 at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center.
Fourth-year junior Daevenia Achong prepares for a match against Syracuse on Friday April 15, 2022 at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center. Photo credit: Alexandra Elaine

After a 55-minute rain delay and nearly four hours of tennis, the ACC Championship quarterfinals match between third-seeded Miami and sixth-seeded Georgia Tech came down to a third-set tiebreaker on Court 6, where freshman Tatyana Nikolenko trailed, 4-5, in only her fifth outing after replacing an injured Diana Khodan in the full-time lineup.

In the biggest moment of her young career, Nikolenko delivered, taking the next three points to seal the match, 4-3, at the Rome Tennis Center at Barry College in Georgia. This propelled Miami into the ACC Championship semifinals for the sixth straight time. The native of Oskemen, Kazakhstan was then swarmed by teammates, who jumped for joy after a come-from-behind victory where No. 13 Miami (17-4, 10-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) dropped the doubles point and four opening sets in singles.

“[We were] just tough when we were down. Even though we weren’t down the whole match, it seemed like we were,” Miami head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said. “I think, all-around, it was a tough match. I don’t think the girls really knew what was going on the entire match, but we hung in there. We knew we had winnable matches on every court.”

In doubles, No. 32 Georgia Tech (14-10, 8-5 ACC) beat the Canes for the second time this year.

Gia Cohen and Ruth Marsh blazed through sophomores Audrey Boch-Collins and Isabella Pfennig, 6-2. Seconds later, No. 5 Carol Lee and Kate Sharabura downed the No. 19 pair of fifth-year senior Eden Richardson and fourth-year junior Daevenia Achong, 6-4, in a top-20 showdown to clinch the doubles point.

The remaining match was left unfinished on Court 2, where Nikolenko and third-year sophomore Maya Tahan led No. 44 Kylie Bilchev and Ava Hrastar, 4-3.

Down 1-0, the Hurricanes needed four victories in singles to win the match, but the Yellow Jackets took four of the six opening sets. In the other two contests, though, Miami was able to win in straight sets to take the lead.

No. 80 Pfennig bested Hrastar, 6-3, 6-3, to equalize. Shortly after, Boch-Collins decisively beat Cohen in a 6-0, 6-4 decision to put the Canes up 2-1.

But Georgia Tech would quickly level the score, as No. 30 Lee did not look back after taking every game in a dominant first set, thumping No. 61 Richardson, 6-0, 6-4.

The three remaining matches went to the third set, with Miami trailing in all of them.

On Court 2, No. 32 Achong went down a break early in the final set, dropping the first two games against No. 81 Bilchev. Later down 3-4, Achong stormed back by taking the next three games to win, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Daev to come up 6-4 in the third at two, Bella to win in straight sets at three and Boch to do her job down at five [were all huge],” Yaroshuk-Tews said.

Once again, the Yellow Jackets responded, as Mahak Jain tabbed a 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 result over Tahan a year after clinching Georgia Tech’s 4-3 victory against the Canes in the 2021 ACC Championship semifinals.

This time, however, Miami would get the 4-3 victory.

Tied at 3-3, Nikolenko battled Sharabura on Court 6. After dropping the first set and trailing 2-5 in the second, the freshman showed the composure of a much more experienced player. Staving off two match points, she rallied to take the second set.

Then, in the third, she did it again, fighting off two more match points to level the score at 5-5 after being down 1-4.

But the momentum shifted back to Georgia Tech, as Sharabura went up 6-5. Once again, Nikolenko fended off another two match points in the 12th game to force a tiebreaker, where she trailed 4-5. The freshman then proved why Miami was so deserving of the nickname “Cardiac Canes,” as she won three points in a row to clinch the match, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5), by the narrowest of margins.

“Taty to pull that out as a freshman [is incredible after], I think, six match points down,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “We deserved this win, for sure. Just with what they’ve been through in the past couple weeks. For the match to come down to that kid and her to pull it out and [Diana] to be on the court helping with the coaching, it’s just meant to be.”

With the win, Miami improved to 22-15 all-time in ACC tournament play and 3-6 against the Yellow Jackets. Tomorrow, they face second-seeded and fifth-ranked Duke, whom the Canes beat 4-3 in the regular season, at 2 p.m. in the ACC Championship semifinals.