CLEMSON — Just after 1 o’clock Saturday afternoon, things looked bleak at the Hoke Sloan Tennis Center, both literally and figuratively.
A sudden rain drenched the courts and halted Clemson’s second-round NCAA match against Vanderbilt with the host Tigers having dropped the doubles point and down a set in two singles matches.
But play resumed after a delay of nearly two hours, and No. 13 Clemson surged past the No. 19 Commodores for a 4-2 win that sent the Tigers into the NCAA Round of 16 for the eighth time in the last 10 years under Nancy Harris.
“They needed to go out and just be a brick wall, so to speak,” the Clemson coach said of the message she delivered during the hiatus. “They needed to let their opponents know that they were not going to go away, that they were going to make a stand and sort of defend their stadium. We talk about that — we want them to know that this is their home stadium, these are their home courts, this is where you never lose.”
No player lived up to that mantra more than Beatrice Gumulya at No. 3 singles.
The Tigers rallied for a 3-2 lead and needed only one more victory to clinch the win, but with Gumulya ahead 5-2 in the third set and serving for the match, she suffered a cramp that started in her lower left leg, moved to her upper right and quickly cast doubt onto what had looked like an inevitable Clemson victory moments earlier.
Gumulya was worried she would be unable to finish — having dealt with a similar cramp during a tournament in Indonesia — but was ultimately able to continue after drinking a significant amount of Pedialyte, which Harris said is “like an IV.”
After having her serve broken by Georgina Sellyn to make the score 5-3, she rallied to break Sellyn at love for a 1-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 win that clinched the Tigers’ trip to the Round of 16.
“I was worried I couldn’t finish the match, but I’m so glad that I did,” Gumulya said. “I just tried to be more aggressive actually, like taking the ball earlier instead of letting the ball drop and taking it later.”
Those cramps weren’t the only adversity Gumulya faced on the day, as she had been handled easily by Sellyn in their first set and had to fight her way through a second-set tiebreaker to even force a deciding third set.
Afterward, the nation’s 40th-ranked singles player admitted the weather delay had helped her stem the tide.
“It was a good thing for me,” she said. “I was actually up 1-love in the second set already, but it was an advantage for me because it slowed down their momentum.”
The gutsy performance by Gumulya, a sophomore from Jakarta, Indonesia, marked her 10th straight win in singles play and improved her record in NCAA tournament play to 4-0. She is now 25-4 this year and has won 36 of her last 40 matches.
“If anybody was going to be in that situation, Beatrice is the one you want out there,” Harris said. “She never gives up. That was the key to the win today. We were in trouble after the doubles, the singles just weren’t going fabulous, and we just didn’t go away as a team. We’ve talked about that all year, and today they came through. They didn’t go away. They just kept fighting back and fighting back.”
One of those players who fought back was freshman Ani Miao, who lost the first set of her singles match with Ashleigh Antal, but rallied to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 to pave the way for Gumulya’s clinching victory.
“She has been a key this year, and she’s really taken off here in the latter part of the year,” Harris said of Miao. “We were trying to figure out, ‘Could she play four? Could she play five?’ And really and truly, she really showed that she’s also a very gutsy player. She doesn’t go away; she fights to the finish. And she did that today.”
With the victory, the Tigers improved to 15-1 under Harris in NCAA matches held at home, and she admitted this one was particularly special because the team doesn’t have a single upperclassman on its roster. The lineup that played Saturday — and has for most of the season — consisted of three sophomores and three freshmen.
Clemson now moves on to the Round of 16 at the Kahn Tennis Center in Urbana, Ill., which begins Thursday, against the winner of the Georgia regional — quite possibly the host Bulldogs, the No. 4 national seeds who eliminated Clemson from last year’s NCAA Championships in the second round.
“This is a wonderful team,” Harris said. “This team is young. They’re exciting, very gifted, very talented, good chemistry. I’m really thrilled that they can go on to the (final) 16, and it would be terrific, if we’re fortunate enough that Georgia comes through, that we could get past Georgia.
“The more rounds that we go as a young team, the better chance you have as the years progress to get a National Championship. So we just keep looking for more experience for them. This season was without a doubt the toughest schedule that Clemson has ever played, and for such a young team to play such a tough schedule, maybe it helped them today.”