Q&A with Michael Shabaz
The top-ranked Virginia men’s tennis team hosts three matches this weekend. On Friday, the Cavaliers play Old Dominion at noon and Georgetown at 4 p.m. Sunday’s match is a top-five battle as No. 4 Texas visits Charlottesville for a noon match. VirginiaSports.com caught up with junior Michael Shabaz to discuss the first half of the season an preview this weekend.
Question: As you are approaching the halfway point of the season, the team has had some ups and downs. You had a disappointing loss at Kentucky, but followed that by winning National Team Indoors and climbing to No. 1 in the rankings. How would you describe the season thus far?
Shabaz: It has definitely been different than my first two seasons. That Kentucky match was the first time we lost a regular season match since I have been here. We responded well from it the following week at National Team Indoors. We knew we were a good team, but we didn’t know where we really stood as compared to the other top teams. It was the first time we had gone into any tournament with loss since I’ve been here. To bounce back and win the title was a really positive response and we are looking forward to seeing how far we can go.
Question: How different has this season been for you playing at the top of the lineup?
Shabaz: It is a little different. When you are at No. 1 or No. 2, you are always playing a really tough opponent. Every time you step on the court, you are against a guy who has a chance to beat you. It forces you to bring you “A” game to every match and anything can happen. So far, it has gone well. I have won most of my matches and hopefully that will continue.
Question: Recently you started playing doubles with Drew Courtney. How has that partnership gone and how does it compare to playing with Dom Inglot (who you won the NCAA Doubles Championship with last year) or Jarmere Jenkins (who you played with in the fall)?
Shabaz: Playing with Drew is closer to playing with Dom than Jarmere. Last year, Dom had one of the biggest serves in college tennis and Drew has a pretty big one too. We base our game similar to what Dom and I did last year, which is to both serve big, hold every time, and then find a break here or there to win a match. That puts a lot of pressure on our opponents. When I played with Jarmere, the points were longer and we had to make more volleys and returns. But since we made the switch, just before National Team Indoors, it has gone really well for Drew and I as a team. I think as we continue to play more as a team we will only get better.
Question: In the newest ITA Singles Rankings, the team has eight players ranked, including Sanam Singh at No. 1 and you at No. 2. What does having so many ranked players, including the top two players nationally, say about this team?
Shabaz: That is an incredible accomplishment. It says a lot about both our players and our coaches. As a whole, it shows that this program is succeeding. It shows that we have a lot of talented players, but we also have to remember that those rankings really don’t mean that much. If we continue to work hard each day in practice, we will continue to get better and the rankings will take care of themselves.
Question: This weekend you have three home matches, against Old Dominion and Georgetown on Friday and against fourth-ranked Texas on Sunday. What are you expecting from these matches?
Shabaz: We have ODU and Georgetown on Friday and hopefully the weather will be good and we can play those matches outside. It would be great to get those Friday matches outside. We practiced outside earlier this week, and we felt pretty good, but it is different when you go into competition. It would be a plus for us to get a couple of outdoor matches in before we play Texas, who is a really talented team. It should be a good weekend for our team.