Jan. 12, 2018
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He never really left the University of Virginia tennis family, even when he was playing professionally overseas. Sanam Singh would spent part of each year in the United States, during which time he was based in Charlottesville, and remained close with UVA’s players and coaches.
He’s closer than ever now. Singh, a 2011 graduate of UVA, returned to his alma mater in the fall and rejoined the men’s program as a volunteer assistant coach.
“I love Charlottesville,” said Singh, who grew up in Chandigarh, India. “It’s always been a home away from home for me. All my friends know that. That was one thing that made the transition a little easier, just coming back to a familiar place rather than going to a completely alien place. I felt like I was coming home.”
During his college career, Singh helped the Cavaliers win four consecutive ITA National Team Indoor titles. He was a two-time All-American in singles and as a senior earned the ITA’s Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award, given annually to a Division I men’s player who combines prowess on the court with sportsmanship, character and strong academics.
Singh played at Virginia for head coach Brian Boland, who now oversees men’s tennis for U.S. Tennis Association Player Development. Boland left UVA in late May after guiding the program to its third straight NCAA title and fourth in five seasons.
Andres Pedroso took over for Boland as head men’s coach after last season. Pedroso, who as UVA’s director of tennis also supervises women’s coach Sara O’Leary‘s program, hired Scott Brown as his assistant coach and Singh as the volunteer assistant.
The men’s coaches know each other well. In 2010-11, Pedroso was Boland’s assistant coach and Brown was the team’s volunteer assistant.
Pedroso is thrilled to have been reunited with Singh, 30.
“Probably the most important part of it is that he’s an incredible role model for [UVA players],” Pedroso said, “and just a really good human being that has always done the right thing and has incredible character and integrity.
“He’s just a great influence on the players. That’s probably the biggest asset that he is to our program, other than being a great player: the person that he is.”
Singh played professionally for about five years after earning his bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs from UVA.
“I took maybe a total of a year off,” he said. “I had a couple injuries, nothing too major, just two months here, three months here. But besides that I was traveling and playing.”
He won seven singles titles in Futures events and four doubles titles in Challengers. He represented India in three Davis Cups, and in singles he reached No. 266 in the ATP singles rankings. Along the way, Singh learned, as have so many other players, that pro tennis can be an enormous grind.
“If you’re top 50 in singles or doubles — or top 100 in singles even — it’s a different life than if you’re top 300 in singles,” Singh said. “You still have to be good to be 260, 300 in singles and 100, 130 in doubles, but the difference is that the money is not great in tennis.
“If you’re the same level in golf, you’re probably making a lot more money. The disparity between top 100 and 300 [in pro tennis] is a lot. When you really think of living a very, very comfortable life, you have to be top 100 in the world in singles.”
Had he done “a few things differently,” Singh said, “I could have probably gone higher [in the rankings]. I don’t know. It’s tough to look back and really think what I could have done — maybe had a few more resources when it comes to sponsors or maybe a little more structure. That was the only thing that was probably missing. But otherwise I traveled for four or five years, played on tour, had some good success.”
Near the end of his pro career, Singh said, “I felt like I didn’t have the resources and also the drive to get back to the level where I’d already played, and I felt like there was no point in wasting time and traveling and wasting my own resources and funds.”
It was time, he concluded, to move on to the next phase of his life. UVA had announced that Pedroso would succeed Boland, and “I know Andres well,” Singh said.
“So I gave him a call and the position was open. I was lucky that he hadn’t really looked at too many people yet. Everything clicked, and I decided to come here, and I’m really happy to be back.”
There were other places, Singh said, “not in college, but in India, where I could have made a significant amount of money, or some money, or even regular country club coaching positions where I could have made money. I decided that I wanted to give at least give it a shot and see how I felt about still being in a competitive environment, and obviously there’s no better place than UVA to start your career in anything. I knew I would treat it like an internship for however long I’m here, and then kind of get my name out there and see what opportunities arise.”
Singh has “the experience of being an elite player in college tennis and also a very experienced and successful player on the ATP tour,” Pedroso said. “I think he brings a level of experience as a player that’s very unique, but he’s also shown me that he’s a tremendous coach and knows how to relate to players.”
Like Pedroso and Brown, Singh practices regularly with UVA’s players.
“Sanam brings that to another level,” Pedroso said. “He’s fresh off the tour. It’s really helpful as a coach to be able to compete with your players [to gauge their strengths and weaknesses].”
When Singh was a senior, UVA lost 4-3 to Southern California in the NCAA final. The Cavaliers had become dominant in the ITA National Team Indoors, but they didn’t break through outdoors, at the NCAA championships, until 2013.
“Obviously, it was very disappointing and heartbreaking,” Singh said, “but I knew we were close and the work that Brian and [wife] Becky and the Bolands had put in, with everyone else that was involved in the program, was just incredible. It was a matter of time.”
In 2013, he watched the NCAA final on-line, Singh recalled, with a former teammate. “I think I was with Treat [Huey] or Somdev [Devvarman],” Singh said, “and we just went insane [with joy].
“It literally felt like we had won the title. That’s one thing about UVA tennis which is so special: that even though I had graduated, I really felt like I was still part of the success that was happening, and that’s a testament to what Brian built around here.”
UVA opens its spring season Jan. 20 against Richmond at the Boar’s Head Sports Club. The rest of Division I will be looking to dethrone the Cavaliers this year, but that’s nothing new, Singh said.
“Honestly, there’s been a target on our backs, I feel, since my first year here in 2007,” he said. “Maybe even before that. People are going to be gunning for us, and we’re in a position where we’re expected to win, especially after the last five years. We won four national championships.”
Expectations might need to be lowered this season. The Wahoos’ roster consists of one senior, one junior, one sophomore, and eight freshmen (one of whom redshirted last season).
“This is a young team,” Singh said. “”They’re going to go out there and battle. We’re going to be behind them, Andres, Scott and I, and we’re going to try and develop these guys into good tennis players and good human beings.”
He’s already learned much from Pedroso and Brown about coaching, Singh said, “and I feel like I do have a lot to offer, not only in tennis, but also just working with college kids. Because I’ve gone through the experience. I’ve gone through the pro tour, and just through that experience I feel like I have a lot to offer these kids and hopefully influence their lives in a positive way.”
Pedroso believes so, too.
“Sanam understands what the player-coach relationship Is all about within UVA tennis,” Pedroso said. “Whatever it takes to kind of help our players with their perspective, with how they’re playing, understanding their games, balancing academics, tennis and life, he understands all that.”