By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On Friday, under sunny skies at the Snyder Tennis Center, UVa played 62nd-ranked Clemson.
Virginia’s opponent Saturday, indoors at the Boar’s Head Sports Club, was No. 15 Georgia Tech.
Each foe met the same fate, predictable outcomes to anyone who follows college tennis. The Tigers lost 6-1 to the Cavaliers, as did the Yellow Jackets a day later. And so ended another triumphant weekend for the ACC’s premier men’s program, which honored its two seniors — Michael Shabaz and Sanam Singh — on Friday afternoon.
With the top-ranked Wahoos’ victory Saturday, they concluded a fifth straight unbeaten regular season in ACC play. UVa has won 74 consecutive matches against ACC opponents, a conference record.
More challenges await Brian Boland’s team. Next weekend in Cary, N.C., the ‘Hoos (11-0 conference, 26-0 overall) will attempt to win the ACC tournament for the fifth consecutive year. Then they will try to claim the one prize that has eluded them: an NCAA team championship.
“To me, personally, it’s everything,” Shabaz said of the NCAAs. “Your fourth year, obviously you want to do great in individuals, but I’m putting every amount of energy and everything I’ve got into the team event, and if we can somehow walk away with the team championship, that would pretty much be a dream come true for me.
“We’ve invested, right now, close to four years of our time here. I know speaking for Sanam too, we’re two pretty unselfish guys, and the team means everything to us, and we’re going to do our best to try to get it.”
The crowd Friday included two VIPs — Shabaz’s mother, Scarlett, and Singh’s mother, Roopa — who were warmly applauded with their sons during the Senior Day ceremony that followed the doubles matches.
Shabaz is from Fairfax, and his mother had seen him play for UVa before. For Singh, though, this was a first. His mom flew in from their home in Chandigarh, India, and will stay in Charlottesville through his graduation and the NCAAs.
Singh has been battling a stomach ailment recently, and he lost his singles match in a tiebreaker Friday. But he felt no added pressure, Singh said, from his mother’s presence.
“It was just fun that she was here, and I’m happy that she got to see it,” he said.
Saturday went better for Singh, who beat Georgia Tech’s Eliot Potvin 6-4, 6-4 at No. 3 singles.
To preserve Singh’s energy, Boland held him out of doubles each day. Singh has not practiced much recently, and he was clearly laboring against Clemson’s Kevin Galloway. To see Singh fail to capitalize on two match points against Galloway pained Boland.
“But the kid’s so tough,” Boland said. “His coach probably takes it harder than he does, to be quite honest. I just feel bad for the kid.”
Shabaz had no such problems over the weekend. He teamed with freshman Justin Shane to win at No. 1 doubles Friday and again Saturday. Shabaz won twice at No. 1 singles, too.
Boland has seen a lot in his 10 seasons at UVa. But Shabaz and Singh, Boland believes, are the first of his players to room together for four years.
“They have a special bond, and there’s a lot of reasons for that,” Boland said. “One, obviously, is their family backgrounds, with the loss of their fathers. And just they have a chemistry about them, and they’ve supported each other through some tough times.”
Vladimir Shabaz died about a year before Michael enrolled at UVa. Kanwai Krishan Singh passed away days after Sanam arrived at Virginia.
Singh said he expected to live with Shabaz for a year, then find a new roommate.
“We clicked,” Singh said. “We became really good friends and took it from there.”
The seniors have helped UVa win four ITA national indoor titles, and each has had notable individual success, too. Singh advanced to the NCAA singles semifinals as a sophomore. Shabaz has won two NCAA doubles titles — the first with Dominic Inglot in 2009, the second with Drew Courtney last year.
“Obviously, I hope I’ve made a pretty good impact in the program,” Shabaz said. “I think you have to credit the coaching staff for working with me and developing me as a person and a player. Not only do I play for myself, but I play for the team and a great group of guys who give it all every day. Together we come together, and we’ve made some pretty good things happen over the last couple of years, and we’re really looking forward to the last stretch.”
Singh said: “Tennis, obviously, is huge, but I look back at my four years and all the relationships that we were made, and all the people I’ve gotten to know and all that stuff almost more than the tennis stuff. I’ve been really happy.”
Asked to reflected on the college careers of his seniors, Boland said, “You just can’t say enough about Michael and Sanam. I think first and foremost, not only how much they’ve improved as tennis players, but more importantly how much they’ve improved and developed as people and just what great leaders they are and what tremendous representatives they are for the University. They’re just really good people, and they came here and became great friends right away, and I think they’ve learned some lessons along the way that they can take with them, not only in their professional tennis careers, but well beyond tennis, which is much more important.”
Its latest championship makes UVa the first ACC men’s tennis program to capture at least a share of the regular-season title for eight consecutive years.
The final scores of the Cavaliers’ matches this season, inside the conference and out, would suggest that the team has yet to be seriously challenged. No opponent has come closer to upsetting UVa than the five teams — LSU, Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina and Wake Forest — that each lost 5-2.
“The record does not speak to the difficulty,” Boland said.
Because of injuries and illness, Virginia has not always had a full complement of players. Most recently, Singh has been ill, and Courtney has been sidelined with a stress fracture in his right foot, though the 6-5 junior is likely to play in the ACC tournament.
The break between that tourney and the start of the NCAAs is about three weeks, which will help UVa’s players get healthy. But the Cavaliers’ coach isn’t unhappy about the way the season has unfolded.
“I think the team’s fitter than they’ve ever been,” Boland said Friday. “They’ve dealt with more adversity than they’ve ever had to. They’ve been more uncomfortable than they ever have been. Guys have gone through some real ups and downs and some struggles. In the end, let’s hope it pays off.”
To better prepare his team for the rigors of the NCAA tournament, Boland has intentionally thrown obstacles in its path.
“I have made the schedule very difficult,” he said. “We have not tapered very much. We have pushed beyond their limits throughout the weeks. They’re playing extremely tired. We’ve probably pushed them at times maybe even a little harder than we maybe we should, but I don’t have any regrets. We’ll talk in June, and we’ll see how I feel.”