The top-ranked Virginia men's tennis team finished its regular season undefeated this weekend by drubbing No. 62 Clemson and No. 15 Georgia Tech, each by a score of 6-1. The Cavaliers, who also compiled perfect regular seasons in 2008 and 2009, now enter the postseason for the fourth consecutive year as the nation's No. 1-ranked team - a notable streak, given that Virginia has failed to win an NCAA title during that span.
Clemson (15-10, 2-8 ACC), which boasts no nationally ranked players, did not present a significant challenge for the Cavaliers, who swept the doubles point and earned three quick singles wins to seal the victory Friday afternoon. The team's two seniors, Michael Shabaz and Sanam Singh, were honored during a ceremony between singles and doubles play.
During the Saturday match against the more formidable Yellow Jackets (17-4, 8-3 ACC), which was moved indoors to the Boar's Head Sports Club because of heavy rain, the Cavaliers performed much like they have against top teams all season by barely winning the doubles point before trouncing Georgia Tech in singles.
Freshman Alex Domijan, whose average play on the doubles court stands in stark contrast to his brilliant singles performances, struggled Saturday against Georgia Tech while paired with junior Steven Eelkman Rooda. The duo lacked energy from the start and was swept, 8-0, in just 30 minutes.
"They had a bad day," Virginia coach Brian Boland said after the match. "The other team played phenomenal. I thought Georgia Tech's two team was great, and you give them a lot of credit, and you just look at it as a bad day for our guys."
Shabaz, a stalwart at the No. 1 doubles spot for the Cavaliers, paired with freshman Justin Shane, who was suffering from a knee injury he sustained a day before the match against Clemson. With his mobility impaired, Shane still managed to push Virginia to an early break, and, serving at 6-4, won a key point against the Georgia Tech duo of senior Eliot Potvin and senior Ryan Smith. The two sides traded lightning-quick shots, with Virginia at the baseline and Georgia Tech at the net, before Shane whipped a forehand crosscourt for the winner. The jaw-dropping pass typified Shane's play during the match, as he and Shabaz earned a nimble 8-5 win.
To seal the doubles point, the Cavaliers relied on the pairing of sophomores Julen Uriguen and Jarmere Jenkins, playing No. 3 doubles. The two sides remained on-serve for much of the match, and the large crowd - vocal to the point of heckling some calls made by the Georgia Tech players - provided a strong boost for the team during the latter portions of the match. During changeovers, the marching band played fight songs and led cheers for the fans, and Jenkins said the support helped him and Uriguen pull through as the pairing ultimately won the match, 9-8 (5).
"I just use the crowd's energy, and use the energy the number one guys brought - Shabaz and Justin," Jenkins said. "We were able to pull through it somehow."
As has become the norm in matches this season, Domijan was among the first to walk off the court during singles play after his straight-set win, and Jenkins was the last - going the distance for the seventh time this season but ultimately notching the victory. The Cavaliers' only loss in singles play came at the No. 5 spot, where Shane, still injured, could not find his groove against senior Dean O'Brien, a hard-hitting baseliner with a two-handed forehand. Shane showed signs of life during the second set, but, down a break early on, was unable to recover and lost, 6-1, 6-3.
"After doubles, my leg locked up, and then I couldn't move again," said Shane, who was visibly limping as he walked out of the locker room after the match. Shane added that his leg was in the same condition during his singles match against Clemson, which he won in straight sets, but his opponent Saturday, O'Brien, was a better player who was able to take advantage of Shane's impaired movement. Shane didn't describe his injury as serious, however, and said he thought it would heal before the start of the ACC Tournament this weekend.
Shabaz, who Shane had been paired with during doubles play, faced a tenacious and sometimes prickly challenger in senior Guillermo Gomez, with whom he bickered at times during the match. Shabaz quickly took the first set but fell behind during the second before rallying to win the match, 6-3, 6-4.
"He got off to a good start in the second set, but I felt pretty comfortable returning," Shabaz said. "Once I got the break back, I really felt like I could close the match, and it got a little bit emotional towards the end, but that's part of it, and I was kind of lucky to finish at 5-4."
The Cavaliers now begin postseason play at the ACC Tournament in Cary, N.C. Friday at 9 a.m. The Cavaliers have won the tournament each of the past four years and clinched the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye with their victories this weekend.