Miami men’s tennis advances to second round of NCAA Tournament thanks to miraculous comeback

Fourth-year junior Franco Aubone celebrates during Miami's match against South Florida on May 6. at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, Fla.
Fourth-year junior Franco Aubone celebrates during Miami's match against South Florida on May 6. at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, Fla. Photo credit: Miami Athletics

Already down the doubles point, and with only two of Miami’s singles players winning their opening sets, the match looked hopeless. No. 45 South Florida (14-11) had a clear path to victory, needing just three of the four courts they were up on to advance. The Hurricanes (17-9) found themselves in an all-too-familiar hole.

Throughout the season, the difference between winning and losing has normally been determined in the first hour and a half of play. UM almost always wins on the same court positions, and all it takes is for one to fall and the match is lost. On this hot Friday in Gainsville, Fla., Miami was losing on nearly all fronts.

In doubles, juniors Franco Aubone and Juan Martin Jalif lost, 3-6, on Court 1. Senior Bojan Jankulovski and graduate student Dan Martin, fell, 4-6, on Court 3 to give the doubles point to the Bulls. Earlier in the season, losing the doubles point would not have been an insurmountable deficit. However, in the last month of the season, the Hurricanes struggled to string more than three singles wins together.

In an even worse turn of events, Miami’s necessary four wins took a greater hit as all but two Canes trailed early. Only senior Benjamin Hannestad and freshman Martin Katz looked comfortable.

In a glimmer of hope, Aubone, on Court 6, began to mount a comeback in the opening set. Down 3-5, the Argentinian put all his will into clawing his way back. He broke the USF player who was serving for the set and forced a tiebreak. Then, he went on a brilliant run to claim the opening set. Even with three Hurricanes winning the opening set, the trio would need to maintain their leads and an additional person would have to make a comeback of their own.

On Court 4, Jalif was the first singles player to conclude his match. He was not able to find any sort of rhythm as the USF player cruised to a 6-2, 6-1, win to give the Bulls a 2-0 advantage.

Hannestad, who had been struggling in singles lately, would provide a dominant performance of his own, 6-3, 6-4 at the third position. His win kept any chance of winning alive and would cut USF’s lead to 2-1.

Next, Jankulovski gave a valiant effort on Court 2, but lost in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, as his career at Miami looked to be coming to an end. The Bulls were now one win away with a 3-1 advantage. The Canes now needed to win every remaining match, and there was no better candidate to pull off a comeback than Martin.

After dropping the first set, 4-6, Martin steamrolled to a 6-0 second set. His experience and poise have made him one of the most reliable players in the country, and the third set cemented this. If he faltered, UM would be going home, but the graduate student was unaffected by the pressure. In a tight third set, Martin broke at 3-3 before closing out the match, 6-3. This put the Hurricanes in an improved, but still shaky position.

On Court 6, Aubone had barely won the first set, and fatigue was clearly showing. The second set was a grueling battle of fortitude, as both players would break each other’s serves. Aubone had a chance to win the match at 5-3, but at match point, his grip faltered, and his drop shot fell harmlessly into the net. At 5-4, with his opponent serving, Aubone again forced another match point. This time, he capitalized. After a down-the-line forehand, Aubone rushed the net and delivered a quick reflex backhand volley to take the set, 6-4. His roar of celebration would carry across the tennis complex to the last remaining match.

Katz battled his way to a first set victory, 6-4, and looked strong in the second set. But in the second set tiebreak, he was unable to close out his opponent and fell, 6-7. This left it all down to a decisive third set.

Despite his opponent’s momentum, Katz settled in and delivered one of the most dominant sets of his collegiate career. He won point after point and break after break to find himself with a 5-0 advantage. With Miami’s season on his shoulders, Katz calmly closed out the final game to give the Canes a dramatic 4-3 victory.

Seconds after winning, Katz would toss his racket to the heavens before his teammates mobbed him in celebration. The match could not have looked direr, but the Hurricanes found a way to stay alive. They play again tomorrow in the second round against No. 2 Florida. The match begins at 5 p.m. at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex.