ATHENS, Ga. -
The Virginia doubles team of Michael Shabaz (Fairfax, Va.) and Drew Courtney (Clifton, Va.) advanced to the finals of the NCAA Doubles Championship with a 7-6(3), 7-6(7) win over Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thatcher of Stanford in a semifinal match Sunday at the Dan Magill Tennis Center. The pair will meet Davey Sandgren and John-Patrick Smith of Tennessee in the final on Monday.
"It feels great to be in the final," said Shabaz. "It is always exciting when you are playing for a National Championship. It doesn't matter if it is in the team, in singles or in doubles, it is a great opportunity to win a championship."
In the first set, the Cavalier team jumped out to a quick start, breaking Klahn's serve in the opening game. They held that advantage until the Stanford team broke Shabaz's serve to draw even at 3-3. Both sides held serve the remainder of the set and it went to a tiebreaker. Stanford went up an early mini-break at 3-1, only to see the Cavalier team roll off six straight points to take the breaker 7-3.
"It was a tough first set but we seemed to play our best tennis on the biggest points," said Courtney. "It was big getting back on serve in the breaker and we just stepped up when we had to. It was big for us to get that first set."
Courtney and Shabaz continued their strong serving in the second set and didn't face a break point in their six service games. However, they couldn't capitalize on any of their six break point chances on Stanford's serve in the set and the second set also went to a breaker. This time it was the Virginia side that got an early mini-break, 3-1, just to have Stanford draw even at 3-3. The Cardinal duo went up a mini-break and had two set points at 6-4 before the Cavaliers drew even. The breaker was tied at 7-7 when a Shabaz forehand down the line set up the Cavaliers' third match point, the first on their serve. The Virginia team won the point to close out the match and advance to the final.
"It was a little discouraging to have all those opportunities on their serve and not be able to take advantage," said Courtney. "We regrouped in the breaker and just tried to play our game. Even when we were down two set points, we knew our returns and serves could keep us in it, and that pulled us through."
Shabaz is looking for his second consecutive doubles title, after winning the championship last season with Dominic Inglot. In College Station, Texas, last season, Shabaz and Inglot also faced the Tennessee duo of Sandgren and Smith in the final, winning 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.
The meeting will be the second of the season between the teams. When Virginia beat Tennessee in the ITA National Team Indoor final at the Boar's Head Sports Club on February 15, Smith and Sandgren topped Shabaz and Courtney 8-1 at No. 1 doubles.
"It is a little déjà vu seeing them in the final again," said Shabaz. "You have no control over who you face, you just have to go out and play against whoever is on the other side of the net. The first match [in February] was different because it was indoors and an eight-game pro set. Tomorrow is going to be a close match and whoever plays the bigger points better is going to come out on top. We are excited for the match."
It is the fifth consecutive year that Virginia has played for an individual NCAA Championship, the longest such streak in the modern era of the tournament (since 1977). USC competed for a title in four consecutive years (1994-97), as did Georgia (1982-85). Somdev Devavrman reached three consecutive singles finals from 2006-08, winning the last two. That was followed by Shabaz and Inglot's doubles title last year and Shabaz and Courtney's run to the final this season.
Monday's championship doubles match is slated for noon.