This weekend the Virginia men’s tennis hosts its biggest tournament of the fall with the UVa Ranked Plus One Invitational Friday-Sunday at the Snyder Tennis Center. Over 30 nationally-ranked players are competing in the event, including five of the top 20 players nationally. Virginiasports.com caught up one of those top-20 players, Cavalier junior Michael Shabaz, to preview the tournament.Question: You didn’t play in the UVa Fall Classic two weeks ago, so this weekend’s tournament is your season debut. How excited are you to get out on the court and get this year started?
Shabaz: I am very excited. Some of the guys who played in the first tournament had some great results, but this week all of us are playing. Hopefully we can all go out and get some wins and put forth a good showing as a team.Question: In the first tournament, the whole team didn’t play, but the guys who did dominated the event. What does that say about the depth of this team?
Shabaz: It says a lot. Each year we have new guys coming in and they get better every week and push the veterans to get better too. We have a lot of guys who would play high in the lineup for any school in the country. Just being able to practice day-in and day-out against guys at that level make all of us better players. Question: After winning the NCAA Doubles Championship last season, do you think that your opponents will play you with a different mentality now that they are playing against an NCAA Champion?
Shabaz: I am not sure yet. I haven’t been in any college competitions since then. We will see. Obviously expectations are high. As a team, we have been No. 1 for most of my time here and we know we are always going to get other team’s best shot. I assume it will be the same having the NCAA Champion label.
Question: You will have a new doubles partner this season after the graduation of Dom Inglot. You are playing with a first-year, Jarmere Jenkins. What are you expecting from that partnership?
Shabaz: I am looking forward to seeing how we do. This weekend is a great opportunity for us to play against some great competition. It might take a little bit of time to get the chemistry going with each other since we have never played together, but we are excited to get going. When I first started playing with Dom, it was a little slow and the results didn’t come right away, but we knew we had the potential to be a great team. Dom and Jarmere are different players. Jarmere is probably a little more consistent, but doesn’t have as big of a game as Dom. We will see how it goes. Sometimes a team meshes right away and sometimes it takes a little while. Question: In each of your first two years, you have been a team that went undefeated through the regular season and was No. 1 in the nation. How do you compare the talent on this team against the teams from the last two years?
Shabaz: We have talked about this recently. It is tough to compare. My first year we had a great team with seniors like Somdev (Devvarman), Treat (Huey) and Teddy (Angelinos). Those were some great players, especially what we got from Somdev and Treat at the top of the lineup. That is the role that Sanam (Singh) and I want to take with this team. In terms of comparing, it’s close. Some people say this team has more talent or more depth that the previous years, but until we prove it on the court, its is just speculation. Question: This weekend’s tournament is one of, if not the best, on-campus event in the nation during the fall with over 30 ranked players competing. Is this the type of event you need as a measuring stick on where this team is at this point of the season?
Shabaz: It definitely helps us. For Sanam and I, we have All-Americans coming up in a couple weeks and this is a chance for us to get some good matches in before that tournament. We haven’t had a chance to play against the top-40 level talent that we will see in Tulsa, but we will get that opportunity this week. If we play well this week, it gives us a lot of confidence and momentum going into All-Americans. It also gives other guys on the team a chance to get some ranked victories against a really good field of players.