After barely taking the first set, an unforeseen obstacle stood in the way of Miami and the Final Four: weather. A 29-minute rain delay moved play indoors, where the Hurricanes didn’t fare well this season, losing their only indoor match of the year to No. 44 Notre Dame.
Thirteenth-ranked Richardson and Achong persevered, punching their ticket to the NCAA Doubles Championship semifinals on Thursday evening with a narrow 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 1-0 (10-5) victory over No. 11 Peyton Stearns and Allura Zamarripa of Texas, this year’s NCAA Team champion. Miami’s triumph at the Khan Outdoor Sports Complex on the campus of the University of Illinois means a Hurricane duo will be in the Final Four for the first time since 1988.
“I thought we were pretty incredible,” Miami head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said. “We were attacking returns, we were shutting down the middle, we were using the lob and line when we had to. I think, tennis-wise, we looked great.”
Four consecutive breaks were followed by four straight holds in the first set, leaving the match deadlocked at 4-4. The Longhorns held a 40-0 advantage in the next game, which was quickly erased after Miami scored three consecutive points. But the Canes double faulted at deuce, and Texas went up 5-4.
Richardson and Achong broke and then held serve to regain the lead, 6-5. Stearns and Zamarripa, the previous two Most Outstanding Players in the NCAA Team Championship, countered back, winning the next game to force a tiebreaker, where Miami took the initial three points before taking the set, 7-5 (7-3).
In the second set, Richardson and Achong jumped out to a 2-0 lead. But the match was then moved indoors due to inclement weather, where Texas took the next three games. Though Miami quickly equalized, the Longhorns responded by winning two straight games to go up 5-3. The Hurricanes leveled the score again at 5-5, but Texas took the set, 7-5.
“I think the first game when we went inside, we actually looked pretty good receiving. We had opportunities to go up 3-0. It didn’t go our way. I think that we were one step slow,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “They started stepping up on the baseline and cracking balls, especially picking on the net player. We were kind of one step slow to them. I just kept trying to tell the girls, ‘Keep going after it. It’s going to go our way. We’ve got to keep going after it.’”
The ten-point tiebreaker ensued, where the Hurricanes bolted out to a 5-1 lead. They didn’t look back from there, earning a 10-5 victory to seal the match.
“To lose the second set and come out and play the way we did at the beginning of the tiebreaker, I think was incredible,” Yaroshuk-Tews shared. “I think it just showed a ton of toughness and belief in themselves and their game. They were very coachable. We started poaching and making moves, and it changed the match.”
For the sixth time in seven years, a Hurricane is in the Final Four. For Richardson, this is her second semifinal appearance, as she won the NCAA Doubles Championship while at LSU in 2018. This is Achong’s first Final Four appearance.
“Listen, I’m so happy for them. I’m so happy for the program,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “…These kids, they deserve it. They’re great kids. They know what they’re doing, they know how to play. They’ve had a very solid season and they’ve brought that tennis into the NCAA tournament. A lot of teams don’t bring it into the tournament. I’m super happy.”
Richardson and Achong are back in action on Friday at 4 p.m. ET, when they will face No. 12 Ayumi Miyamoto and Lisa Marie Rioux of Oklahoma State.