Nelson, the Pac 10 Conference Player of the Year, led 5-0 in the deciding set before allowing Zhukova to win on her serve and make it 5-1. Serving for the match, Nelson won four straight points for the victory.
“I tried a lot of little things to get it going,” Zhukova said. “I tried a couple of things to get a couple of games and got in a nice groove in the second set. She was much more aggressive in the third set and made fewer mistakes.”
Down a set and 1-0 in the second set, Zhukova claimed five consecutive games to go up 5-1 then took the momentum to the third set with a 6-3 win. During her second-set run, Zhukova went up 2-1 by winning four straight points on her serve, broke Nelson on the next serve, took control 4-1 on an ace in the next turn and broke Nelson again for the 5-1 advantage.
Late in the second set, Nelson took a restroom break. Zhukova kept loose by jumping rope and doing agility drills on the court. The match, played on Court No. 3 at the Henry Field Courts at the Dan MaGill Tennis Complex, lasted 1:55.
“Nelson did not feel confident to hit winners in the second set,” UTC Head Coach Tom Lowry said. “Anastasia was able to get balls up high on her. I thought Nelson got tired and started looking toward the third set and a new set of balls. She came with a different game in the third set.
“Anastasia had trouble in the third set working into the point. Nelson obviously played like a No. 4 seed and one of the top 10 players in the nation. I told Anastasia to expect her to turn it on. She had a chance. Nelson played a totally different game when she was ahead (in the third set).”
Zhukova was the first UTC player in the program’s Division I history to compete in the NCAAs. The loss snapped Zhukova’s 11-match win streak, and the senior from Moscow, Russia, ends her career with a 72-10 singles record.
“It was great to play my final match here,” she said. “It was a tough match, and this will be a difficult tournament to win.”
Lowry was proud of Zhukova’s effort and career accomplishments during her two years at UTC.
“She belongs here,” he said. “Win or lose, it was a matter of finishing her career on this stage. I’m so glad she got to play on the Henry Field Courts. It’s like the Stadium Court at Wimbledon.”
Nelson advanced to the NCAA finals for the second straight year but lost to top-seeded Audra Cohen of Miami, 7-5, 6-2.