Tag Archive: Michael Shabaz

This far into the season, it’s time to dig deep — not just for the players, but for me as well, as this week’s W.A.T.C.H. List plumbs the depths of the rankings all the way down to #720 in the rankings.

As has been documented in previous Lists, as tournaments dwindle toward the end of the year, fewer guys are playing, which limits the potential career high ranking opportunities. In this week’s case, it’s limited to the following folk:

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Mohamed Safwat EGY 23 198 others lost points
Roberto Ortega-Olmedo ESP 22 331 Qatar F4 SF
Wilson Leite BRA 22 371 Brazil F20 QF
Ivan Arenas-Guarda ESP 23 392 others lost points
Michael Shabaz USA 26 394 Qatar F4 F
Tihomir Grozdanov BUL 26 399 Qatar F4 W
Oliver Golding GBR 20 406 Qatar F4 SF
Erik Crepaldi ITA 23 416 Turkey F49 SF
Karunuday Singh IND 23 488 Cambodia F3 SF
Yoshihito Nishioka JPN 18 503 Chile F11 W
Mateo Nicolas Martinez ARG 19 581 others lost points
Jaime Pulgar-Garcia ESP 24 583 others lost points
Frederico Ferreira Silva POR 18 603 Turkey F49 R2
Eduardo Agustin Torre ARG 19 674 Chile F11 SF
Markos Kalovelonis GRE 19 689 others lost points
Marko Tepavac SRB 19 716 others lost points
Andrea Basso ITA 20 717 others lost points
Carlos Boluda-Purkiss ESP 20 718 Qatar F4 R2
Herkko Pollanen FIN 19 719 Turkey F49 R2
Adrian Partl SVK 20 720 others lost points

Before I zero in on some of these heroes, I come bearing the following bulletins:

1) If you’re someone who has backed into a personal best ranking by others losing points? Well then sorry, I won’t be doing a pro-file on you this (or any) week. *sniffs snobbishly*


2) If you made the final four at the Qatar F4? Well then congrats, ’cause you’ve got a career high ranking!

One of those Qatar Final Fourers is none other than former University of Virginia standout Michael Shabaz, who’s been bedeviled by illness and injury since making a professional splash as a finalist of the 2010 Charlottesville Challenger (as well as a popular participant of the 2010 USTA Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs). 

The two-time NCAA champ (and 2005 Wimbledon Boys doubles titlist) was only able to play fourteen pro matches in 2011 and twenty-six matches in 2012 before finding this current run of health and form at the end of 2013, in what amounts to his first full professional season.

The only downside to all this good news is that he’ll have to update his website sometime soon.

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USTA AO Wildcard Playoffs Final Day Recap

Well it’s all over for us crazy tennis fans in 2010.  The Australian Open Wildcard play-offs have finally come to an end here in Atlanta and I must admit that I already miss my friends, the fans, and the players of this wonderful sport.

Personally, this was such an incredible event for me because I was able to meet so many new people who are actively involved in the tennis world in one form or another.  I got to know UVA Senior Michael Shabaz since I was the lucky one to pick him up from the airport, and what a terrific guy he is.  I found out so much about him (mainly because I can’t keep my big mouth shut and I like to ask a lot of questions).  This is what Italian people do by the way, they talk a lot. 

Anyway, Michael is a 23-year-old anthropology major and lives in Fairfax Virginia (a suburb of Washington DC).  As we conversed, and I subsequently bored him to tears, he proudly told me that his grandfather, who was a talented soccer player, went to high school with Andre Agassi ‘s dad in Iran (many decades ago).  As most of you know, Agassi’s father was an Olympic boxer. You can read more detail about that in Agassi’s autobiography “Open”, which I highly recommend by the way!  I learned to love Andre even more than I already did after I read his book, and of course his wife shares my name.  I just wish I could have a modicum of her tennis talents.  Dare to dream …

There is no better way to learn about tennis players then by spending time in the players lounge of any tournament, and the AO WC event was no exception.  I was able to talk to, and listen in on many conversations and it was truly so much fun for me as the huge tennis fan that I am.  I am a huge sports fan in general, but tennis is undoubtedly one of my faves.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I also play A LOT of tennis too. 

Anyway,  in the course of one day I met Ryan Harrison, Rhyne Williams, Jack Sock, Melanie Oudin, Coco Vandeweghe, Jamie Hampton, Denis Kudla, Jordan Cox and Tim Smyczek.  I learned so many neat things about these players.  For instance, did you know that Tim Smyczek  and John Isner are roommates?  They live in Tampa, Fla and train at Saddlebrook together.  And they also just played  in a charity event up at Marquette University in Milwaukee, where Tim is from. 

Coco has a mean game of table tennis, Melanie Oudin is such an absolute sweetheart, and Rhyne Williams is one BIG guy!  When he got up to play table tennis with Kudla, I was like, “Whooaa dude!”  He is very funny by the way.  Ryan Harrison on the other hand was a bit harder to get to know, which at first I took for pretention, but learned that this wasn’t the case at all.  He is a truly a very nice guy, just very serious about his profession I guess.  He was really cracking the jokes on the court and had me in stitches, really. 

So, I have to save one of new favorite players for last I guess and that couldn’t be anyone else but Jack Sock.  Not only is he one of the sweetest young men that you will ever meet, but his whole family and camp are this way.  His brother Eric, his aunts and uncles and his coach, Mike Wolf, were just so gracious and appreciative of everything you did for them. They all must have said “thank you” a thousand times and to be honest, I really didn’t think I did anything to help them, not enough anyway. 

Jack Sock serving one up at the Racquet Club of the South

I can’t wait to see all these young players go out and compete again in the near future.  The Australian Open cannot come soon enough for me, I can assure you, but we have Auckland (amongst others) to look forward to.  Smyczek, for one, will be going to Auckland by the way, and his “roomie” is the defending champion.  When I mentioned to Tim that several top 20 players are now competing in that tournament, he made it very clear that Isner was to have NO problem defending his title.  It was very, very cute.  I definitely backed off at that point and went and got myself a beer, to which Tim replied, “oh could you get me one as well?”  LOL!  To  which I replied, of course, “Regular or lite?”  No, I really didn’t say that; I just said that they all had to go out and play Team Tennis with Patrick McEnroe so it probably wasn’t a good idea. 

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The USTA wildcard playoffs have traditionally* been a showcase of the American tennis “young guns”, but yesterday’s quarterfinal results saw the established order within the up-and-coming ranks get outgunned and, er, outyounged (with apologies to Donald); only one of the top four seeds advanced to today’s semifinals, and even he is merely 18 years of age (third seed Ryan Harrison). Indeed, of the remaining “men”, the oldest among them is 19 year-old University of Tennessee sophomore Rhyne Williams, with the other three just barely out of juniors.

Regardless of what happens in today’s matches, if I were General Manager of USTA Player Development Patrick McEnroe I’d be very pleased with this particular quartet. For one thing, Williams’ presence shows that PMac’s pushing the college game more to the fore is by no means a foolhardy endeavor. Moreover, the fact that UVA’s Michael Shabaz fell just short of making it two wins in two matches vs. Harrison shows that college tennis is becoming an increasingly viable option when it comes to helping shape the future of the American professional game. John Isner’s success might not be as anomalous and outlying as the big man’s height is after all.

And the ever-more-youthful demarcation even within the up-and-coming demographic here goes some way toward showing that American NextGen is coming up fast. Not to get too carried away on the results of four matches and four individuals, but I’m just saying: as portents go, it’s not half bad.

So, pre(r)amble aside, let’s have a look at the Final Four and their semifinal matches:

Jack Sock vs. Denis Kudla: Sharp-brained readers and tennis enthusiasts will recall that this is a rematch of the US Open Junior final, which Sock won 3-6 6-2 6-2, but did you know: they’ve already met one more time since then? Of course you didn’t; that’s why you come here to read my wildly informative words!  You see, Jack also beat Denis about five weeks ago on clay 7-5 6-4 in the first round of the USA F30 Futures, which is as different a setting from his previous win as can be imagined (this is especially true for people with terrible imaginations).

Despite Sock’s recent dominance, Denis is is actually the higher-ranked junior (#21 to Jack’s #32) and professional (#493 to #872). He’s also also older by five weeks, in case you’re wondering. What does this all mean? I have no idea. Suffice it to say that the Kudla, who beat 4th seed Jordan Cox 6-4 6-3 in the previous round, is not going to be a pushover. However – and this is not a prediction in any way – I would not be surprised in the least if the big boy from Lincoln, Nebraska, who upset top-seed Donald Young 7-6(3) 3-6 6-4 in the first round, continued his winning ways here. Either way, should be a heckuva match.

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What an amazing day of tennis at the Racquet Club of the South today!  I was not able to see the ladies play, but I was able to go around the club and see all four of the men’s matches. Rhyne Williams really brought his A game but to be honest I really wasn’t expecting anything less from him.  He is fresh off his win from the Intercollegiate Championships in N.Y. and honestly when I saw him in person, I was a little taken aback.  He’s very tall and very quick on his feet.  He is going places for sure and is someone to keep your eye on.  Williams beat the second seed Tim Smyczek 6-4, 6-0. Wow!

Williams with Coach Chris Woodruff after his win. (photo courtesy of Volstennis twitter)

The match that I saw the least of was Denis Kudla and Jordan Cox, but I sat and watched them play table tennis in the players lounge after their match.  Such unpretentious guys and very eager to answer any questions that I put to them.  Cox is now living in Florida at Bollettieri’s Academy and Kudla is training in Boca right now, but still calls his home Northern Virginia and loves it here.  Kudla will next play Jack Sock in the semifinals.

Speaking of Sock, Jack was on fire today.  He was up 4-0 in the first set and then hurt his hip somehow and I could tell it caused him some discomfort.  Young came back after that, and the match ended up going three sets.  Young lost the match with a double fault and then smashed his racquet into the ground not once, not twice, but three times to really make certain it was broken.  What was so inspiring to me during that match was Sock’s passion. The fist pumping, the C’mon’s!  I absolutely loved it and it was so much fun to watch.  What a cute, cute kid he is, and boy does he really have some talent.  America should be so proud to call him our own.

The final of the four matches was the Ryan Harrison and Michael Shabaz battle. Those two went head to head and Harrison had match point in the second set, but Shabaz refused to surrender and killed the ball to take it to a tiebreak. It was such a fun match to watch.  Harrison is as passionate as Sock but probably has a little more arrogance about him than Jack.  It was good though… all good.  Harrison is very sure of himself and that confidence is going to take him far, no doubt.

So, the semi’s start tomorrow at 1 p.m. EST on Sat.  I am so excited to see these matches so stay tuned for more fun and awesomeness to come!

Apologies, folks. I was expecting something from a contributor that fell through (disclaimer: not talking about Stephiesport here; it was a different contributor), so I can only give you a last-minute, rushed preview of what to expect from today’s USTA AO Playoff quarterfinal matchups, which are as follows:

[1] Donald Young vs. [8] Jack Sock: This is the first meeting between the two. It’s an interesting match between the highly touted 18 year-old Sock, who is the current #32 junior in the world rankings and won the US Open Jr. Boys title this past summer (defeating fellow WC participant Denis Kudla 3-6 6-2 6-2 in the final), and Young, the now 21 year-old former world #1 junior (in 2005). Young has long been seen as one who hasn’t yet maximized his promise or potential, reaching a career high of #73 in the ATP rankings two years ago and currently sitting at #127. Of course, it’s too early to tell what the professional future holds for Jack, as he just turned 18 a few months ago and has only made a few forays into the men’s tennis game. Right now he sits at #872 in the rankings, but hasn’t played enough matches to where his ranking is nearly commensurate with his talent. Of course, just the opposite could be and has been said about Young. Lots of pressure on the hometown ATL top seed today. I’m keen to see how he meets this playoff challenge.

[2] Tim Smyczek vs. [7] Rhyne Williams – Also the first meeting for the two. It could be argued that the 19 year-old Williams has the most name recognition to the casual fan coming into this matchup, though Smyczek is almost 600 spots higher in the rankings. The University of Tennessee sophomore comes into the tourney on a bit of a hot streak, having won the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship in Flushing, N.Y, while 22 year-old Smyczek kind of muddled through the end of his Challenger season, going 4-5 to end his season and 39/30 on the year. I’d expect that Smyczek’s experience will pull him through this one, but it might be close.

[3] Ryan Harrison vs. [6] Michael Shabaz – This is the glamour match. The 18 year-old #173-ranked Harrison, of course, is the most highly praised young gun in the American arsenal at the moment, having upset Ivan Ljubicic at the US Open and almost doing the same to Sergiy Stakhovsky. But UVA’s Shabaz won their only previous matchup 6-4 3-6 6-2 last month in the 2nd Round of the Charlottesville Challenger, and the 23 year-old went on to win the tournament, beating Kei Nishikori, Chris Guccione, Giovanni Lapentti and Robert Kendrick along the way (though not in that order). Ryan will be itching for revenge, but will Shabaz be able to get the better of him for the second time in two months? Let’s watch and see.

[4] Jordan Cox vs. [5] Denis Kudla – Once again, a first meeting for both.  It’s actually quite shocking the two 18 year-olds haven’t met on any level while consistently being among the best young American talents.  Kudla is the current #1 U.S. Junior (#21 overall), despite losing that close USO final to Jack Sock.  Jordan Cox, meanwhile, reached a combined junior ranking high of #36 in July of 2009.  Both have had pretty decent years, making their first ventures into the pros: Kudla went 27/18 on the season and won the USA F26 Futures in October, while Cox went 29/25 and made the semis of USA F26 and the finals of USA F27.  Not much between these two, as the seedings indicate. Should be a close one.

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