May 18, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to

He's only 22, but Michael Shabaz has already played on the biggest stages in tennis.

The Australian Open. The French Open. Wimbledon. The U.S. Open.

His illustrious juniors' career led him to the four majors while he was a minor, culminating in a Wimbledon boys doubles title in 2005.

"I guess you can say that I've been around the block," Shabaz said.

Now, as a junior at Virginia and a member defending NCAA Division I doubles championship team, he's looking to add more titles to his collegiate career and a team crown for the Cavaliers.

No. 1 Virginia (37-1) has not lost since Feb. 6 and will face Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke (20-8) for the third time this season when the teams meet in the Sweet 16 at noon Friday in Athens, Ga.

The Cavaliers were undefeated in the ACC for the fourth consecutive year, thanks in large part to Shabaz, their No. 1 player, who is ranked 11th in singles with a 31-9 mark and teams with sophomore Drew Courtney to form the 14th-ranked doubles team, which is 20-3.

"Knowing what I've done in my career helps me know that I can get the job done in times like this," Shabaz said. "I know what I want to achieve. The team title is 100 percent my focus and my thoughts are strictly on the team title. I don't want to walk off the court until that last ball is struck."

As a freshman, Shabaz played at the bottom of the lineup on Virginia's 2008 team that was undefeated until it lost to Georgia in the semifinals. Last year, with Shabaz playing at No. 3 singles and teaming with Dominic Inglot at No. 1 doubles, the Cavaliers were once again undefeated until losing to eventual national champ Southern California in the quarterfinals.

Shabaz and Inglot went on to win the NCAA doubles title with a 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory over Tennessee's Davey Sandgren and John-Patrick Smith. Inglott graduated in 2009, so Shabaz teamed with Courtney this season to form another top doubles team.

"We feel like we're in a good state of mind, not too juiced, not too down," Shabaz said. "We've put in the work and feel pretty good about this tournament and where we're at. We're just really, really excited and ready to play."
As a freshman, Shabaz watched and learned from Somdev Devvarman, who won the NCAA singles titles in 2007 and '08, giving the Cavaliers a championship in each of the past three seasons.

"He has just kept improving and improving," Virginia coach Brian Boland said. "He had to make that transition from juniors his first year, and played at the bottom of the lineup, but he's improved and become a great player and a leader. I think having the experience of playing with Somdev really helped him. He learned a lot in that time and it's helped him become a leader and one of our top singles players."

Shabaz returned to the U.S. Open last fall and was hanging around talking to some of his buddies. Pro Wayne Odesnik mentioned that he had earned a wild card spot to play doubles, but he didn't have a partner.

Shabaz grabbed the opportunity, even though they had never teamed together. Shabaz and Odesnik lost 6-3, 6-4 to John Isner, who won the 2005 NCAA doubles title at Georgia, and Sam Querrey, two of the United States' top young pros.

"That was a great experience. Playing in those big tournaments helps you get a feel for the atmosphere of playing in the men's tournament," Shabaz said. "We know what it's like to play in Athens and we know the atmosphere there is great. The fans there are great, and like other big tournaments, whether it's Wimbledon or the U.S. Open or the NCAA tournament, you know that it will bring out the best in yourself."