The Virginia men’s tennis team has already secured its seventh consecutive 20-win season. The top-ranked Cavaliers (20-0, 5-0 ACC) visit Miami and Florida State this weekend. VirginiaSports.com caught up with sophomore Michael Shabaz for an update on this season and to preview this weekend’s action.
Question: The team is 20-0 this season and currently ranked No. 1 in the country. It is the same place you were at this point of the season last year. Has this season felt the same as last year, or have there been differences?
Shabaz: It has been a little bit different. Last year we went into the season as the favorites from the start. This year we started out the year No. 5 and were a bit of an underdog. Now we have proven with our results, especially winning National Indoors, that we are deserving of being No. 1. The approach has been a little bit different, but so far the results have been the same. Hopefully we can keep it going.
Question: Was it any more rewarding to win the National Indoor title this season when you weren’t expected to, rather than last season when you were the favorite?
Shabaz: Definitely. When you are expected to win there is pressure to come through and anything less than that seems like a failure. The fact that we weren’t the favorites and came through to win, that says a lot about our team and how much we have improved since last year. To be able to repeat, after losing key guys like Somdev (Devvarman), Treat (Huey) and Teddy (Angelinos), is a great accomplishment.
Question: You mention the loss of those key seniors on last year’s team. Somdev and Treat played at No. 1 and No. 2 singles the previous two years. Has your mentality changed this season now that you are playing higher in the lineup?
Shabaz: It definitely changes. Dom (Inglot), Sanam (Singh) and I are playing the best players from the other team each match. We know that if we can play solid and win at the top of the lineup that we will be in pretty good shape. We have been winning a majority of our doubles points and the guys at the bottom of the lineup have been solid, so if Dom, Sanam and I are winning at the top, we feel really confident.
Question: The team has had a lot of doubles success this season. Last year at this time you were still switching some combinations and trying new teams. How much has the fact that this year’s teams have played together all season long been a key to the success?
Shabaz: That has definitely been a big key to our success. Sanam and Houston (Barrick) are more comfortable as a team now than they were in the fall or last year. They have found their style and know how they want to play. Playing a lot of matches just builds your confidence as a team. As for Dom and I, we feel real comfortable as a team. We are serving well and making our opponents work in each return game. I can see it coming together a little bit more with each match and hopefully we can keep that going.
Question: This weekend you travel to Miami and Florida State, two of your biggest ACC rivals. What are you expecting from these matches?
Shabaz: They are going to be tough matches for sure. The biggest element is the weather. It is certainly hotter in Florida than it is here. We probably haven’t played in that type of weather since the NCAAs in Tulsa last year. Miami is a talented team and has some strong players throughout their lineup. Florida State has a lot of great players and always plays us tough. The ACC is tough no matter who you play, especially on the road. With our success in the league over the last few years, we know we are the team the rest of the league is targeting and we are going to get everyone’s best shot.
Question: Have you noticed that teams are playing a higher level against you compared to what you have seen in their results from earlier in the season?
Shabaz: A perfect example was last week. Clemson isn’t ranked and has not had many big wins and they came here and gave us a battle. They know if they play hard and somehow pull off an upset, it makes their season. Each match we know we have to be up for because we know our opponent is going to be up for us.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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