Michael Shabaz and Sanam Singh, the only seniors on the Virginia men's tennis team, have rolled through their regular season matches this year as part of a star-studded lineup ranked No. 1 in the country - just as they've done for each of the past four seasons.
When Shabaz and Singh first joined the team in 2007, Treat Huey and Somdev Devvarman, two of the best players in Virginia tennis history, were just finishing up similarly dominant careers at the top of the Cavaliers' lineup. But during Huey and Devvarman's four years, Virginia never won the NCAA crown. Shabaz and Singh hope this spring to earn the title which always has managed to elude the Virginia program.
"We feel like this is the most complete team we've put on the court top to bottom," Shabaz said. "We have great chemistry, and we all have the same common goal, and we're all really motivated and working hard to reach that goal."
The Cavaliers (24-0, 9-0) will wrap up their regular season against No. 62 Clemson Friday and No. 15 Georgia Tech Saturday at the Snyder Tennis Center. The ACC Tournament, which the Cavaliers have won each of the past four years, begins next Thursday, and the NCAA Tournament starts with the regional tournament May 13.
"As everybody knows, we've been in this position year after year," coach Brian Boland said, "and I don't think we've ever been in a better position as a team going into the postseason."
During Singh and Shabaz's freshman years, Huey and Devvarman led a lineup which ultimately lost, 4-3, in the NCAA semifinals against Georgia. Devvarman, who was the nation's top-ranked player and captured the NCAA singles title, has since risen to No. 72 in the ATP world rankings as a professional. Huey, who captured the NCAA doubles title, has recently broken the top 100 in the ATP doubles rankings.
"Somdev and Treat were great mentors," Singh said. "I came in as a freshman, and I didn't really know what to expect. But they were good seniors and made me feel really comfortable."
Now, Singh, ranked No. 32 in the country, and Shabaz, ranked No. 8, play No. 3 and No. 2 singles, respectively, for Virginia. They lead a lineup of six singles players who collectively never have given up more than two matches against one opponent - a testament to Virginia's depth and talent.
This weekend, the Cavaliers face two opponents which are unlikely to stretch their lineup. Clemson (15-9, 2-7 ACC) does not boast any ranked players, a stark contrast to Virginia, which has five players ranked in the top 50 including two in the top 10.
Georgia Tech (16-3, 7-2 ACC), meanwhile, features a tougher test at the top in senior Guillermo Gomez. The Yellow Jacket's No. 1 singles player is ranked No. 15 in the country and last year posted a three-set win against Shabaz, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Gomez was named ACC Player of the Week for the second time April 12 after downing two top-40 foes and earning the most career singles victories in Georgia Tech history. Shabaz, who alternates at times with freshman Alex Domijan at the No. 1 singles spot, said he expects Gomez will present a difficult challenge.
"His game style is grinding," Shabaz said. "He wears you down; he's very physical. So obviously the way I play or the way Alex plays, we're going to handle it different ways, but personally for me I know it's going to be a tough match. I have a lot of respect for him."
The Cavaliers have been dominant at home and against ACC teams, particularly since the arrival of Singh and Shabaz. In 2006, the Cavaliers lost a regular-season match, 4-3, against Miami. Since then, the Cavaliers never have lost at home and never have lost against an ACC team - a streak which includes 85 consecutive home victories and 72 consecutive ACC victories.
"Obviously, it's an incredible honor to have a streak that long. It's tough to do that because we have so much respect for the competition in the ACC," Shabaz said. "With that being said, we see the bigger goal as the NCAAs and finishing strong towards the end."
The match against Clemson begins Friday at 3 p.m., and the match against Georgia Tech starts at 2 p.m. The seniors will be honored between singles and doubles play during the match against Clemson, and Saturday, the team will set up a moon bounce along with face painting.