Q&A with Michael Shabaz
The top-ranked Virginia men’s tennis team hosts an ITA Kickoff Weekend event this Friday and Saturday at the Boyd Tinsley Courts at the Boar’s Head Sports Club. The event is used for qualification to next month’s ITA National Team Indoor Championships, where the Cavaliers are the three-time defending champion. On Friday, Virginia hosts Cornell at 6 p.m. and East Tennessee State and Binghamton meet at 2 p.m. On Saturday, the consolation match is at 2 p.m. and the championship match is at 6 p.m. Virginiasports.com talked with senior Michael Shabaz to discuss to start of the season, the team’s goals and to preview the upcoming matches.
Question: Last week, the team opened the season with four convincing wins. Were those the type of performances you wanted to start the season with, not just in terms of results, but also in level of play?
Shabaz: We played well from top to bottom. As a whole we feel very good and last week we got off to a good start against a few good teams. We are looking forward to kicking off ITA National Indoors this week with the regional and then having Maryland and Kentucky here the week after. There will be some challenges in there, but we are excited for it.
Question: You have won the ITA National Team Indoor title the last three years. No team has ever won four in a row. What would it mean to you to be the first school to accomplish that feat and go undefeated for your career in such a prestigious event?
Shabaz: It would mean a lot to me and to Sanam [Singh] because we have won it the last three years. It would be pretty sweet to put yourself in the record books and do something no one else has ever done. We know it will be a difficult task. There are a lot of great teams out there and we have a lot of work to do to be in a position to win it again.
Question: Friday’s match is against Cornell, a team coached by former UVa assistant coach Tony Bresky and your former teammate Houston Barrick. Is it going to be weird to play a match and see them coaching the other team?
Shabaz: It is going to be a little different. One was my teammate and one was my coach for three years. I have a good relationship with both of them. To see them on the other side in different colors will be interesting. The match will be fun. I am sure they are excited to have a chance to come back to Charlottesville and bring their new team here to play us.
Question: You seem to have raised your level of play at the start of the season. How much did playing events like the Virginia National Bank Challenger and the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Tournament help you improve as you were playing so many matches against pros in the top 200 in the world?
Shabaz: It has made a big impact on my start of the season. I feel a lot more comfortable on the court. The last few months I have been playing guys in the top 200 in the world, When you play against guys who can play at that level, it is tough at first, but then you get used to it. Some of the top guys in college can hit a ball like that too, but after playing at that level, I have a lot of confidence in my game. I am trying to keep building on it and hopefully I can keep that momentum going.
Question: As you are starting your senior season at Virginia, what are your goals for this year?
Shabaz: The goal is to win a NCAA outdoor team championship. That is the main goal and our focus is to peak in May. We are going to take our approach a little bit differently. We are going to go full out in every match and use the regular season to prepare ourselves for the postseason. Our regular season record over the past few years speaks for itself, but we know we need to be at our best when NCAAs come. We are excited for it.