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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Shabaz Retires From NCAA Semifinal, Sending Johnson on to Final Against Williams; Tan vs. Juricova for Women's Title

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Stanford, Calif.

It's not often a NCAA semifinal match decided in a third set tiebreaker gets overshadowed, especially if the contestants are two Bay area players, one on her home courts. But Cal-Berkeley's Jana Juricova, who is returning to the finals for the second consecutive year after a 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(2) victory over unseeded Stanford freshman Nicole Gibbs, wasn't the story. Nor was the all-Tennessee semifinal between best friends and roommates Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren, which Williams won 6-3, 3-6, 6-0. Even Stanford's Stacey Tan was an afterthought, despite her improbable run to he final as an unheralded sophomore playing at the No. 5 position most of the year. Tan advanced to the women's final when Florida's Lauren Embree, the heroine of the team event, was forced to retire with a foot injury at 5-7, 6-3.

Yet for all that drama, the fans, coaches, players and volunteers at the Taube Family Tennis Center were talking about only one thing late Sunday afternoon-- the University of Virginia's Michael Shabaz, who abruptly retired after a point penalty down 7-6(4), 4-2 in his semifinal match with Steve Johnson of Southern California.

The controversy began in the first set, with Johnson serving at 5-6, 30-40, a set point, and only the third break point of the match to date, with Shabaz having saved two in the previous game.

"We had a three, four ball rally and he hits a slice that I thought was clearly out, a couple of inches," said Johnson, who gestured in dismay after he returned the shot. "The referee on the line didn't call it, but the chair overruled it, which I felt was the right call, but I guess he feels differently, and most of the UVA people here feel differently."

Playing with a full complement of line judges for the first time, after the players had called their own lines through the quarterfinals with a chair to overrule clear mistakes, there was an adjustment to be made. Although both players adapted quickly to the change, the first set tiebreaker brought another controversial call, or lack of one, irritating Shabaz again. Serving at 5-4, Johnson hit a surprise kick first serve, which Shabaz didn't get back in play, giving Johnson two set points. On Johnson's next first serve, a flat one, Shabaz thought it was long, making no move to Johnson's return of his return. The chair umpire, Michael Standrod, called the score, game and first set to Johnson, while Shabaz pleaded his case. During the set break, Shabaz continued to discuss the failure of the chair to call a fault, especially since he had overruled on the previous set point.

"I couldn't tell you, it was close either way," Johnson said of his serve. "It's hard for me to tell. Peter (Smith, USC head coach), for what it's worth, told me it was good, whether he was just saying that because he's my coach, or because it was good, I don't know. But it's tough to see, it's tough conditions, but sometimes it doesn't go your way and you have to be ready for anything."

The second set started as the first had, with no break points and easy holds through the first five games. Serving at 2-3, 30-15, Shabaz hit a forehand wide, and on the next point Johnson came up with an audacious dipping cross court pass to make it 30-40. Shabaz missed his first serve, and as the ball came back to him he swatted at it, with some anger but not any visible emotion. Unfortunately for him, the ball left the stadium, and the chair called out point penalty, unsportsmanlike conduct, game Johnson. As both players walked to the bench, Shabaz approached Johnson and shook his hand, while Virginia head coach Brian Boland, who was watching from the stands, could be heard to shout, "No, Shaz, No." Shabaz put his racquet in his bag and walked off the court, while all 1500 fans, who had been treated to an extremely high-quality display of tennis to that point, sat in stunned silence.

"I'm not sure what happened," said Johnson. "He was just done. After the point penalty, hitting it out of the stadium, he just called it quits. I've never had that happen in a match in my life. He's a tough competitor, I'm just kind of confused about what happened."

Johnson was hardly the only one.

"I'm speechless," said USC head coach Smith, who said he had never seen a match end that way in his over 20 years of collegiate coaching. "I actually feel sorry for all those involved. Michael is a way better person than that, and that program's a way better program than that. There were some missed calls, but that's tennis, if you've got umpires or not. I've got a lot of text messages asking me what just happened."

Cavalier head coach Boland described himself as speechless, but went on to elaborate on his disappointment with the 23-year-old senior from Fairfax, Virginia.

"I would probably consider that the lowest point in my 15 years as a head coach. I'm in shock.'

Asked if he shared Shabaz's frustration with the chair umpire, Boland was blunt.

"You are never justified in quitting a tennis match, under any circumstances, no matter what the adversity," said Boland. "Whether we agree or disagree with the line calls, whether we're having the worst day of our lives. I've told my players that my entire coaching career and I'm in absolute shock."

"We've had an unbelievable relationship for four years, he's grown incredibly, and I am completely, totally sad and very disappointed," Boland said, his voice catching with emotion. "I still cannot believe he walked off the court. That being said, I know his emotions were at a high point, and he was in complete disagreement with the umpire, and I know it's not personal towards anyone. I think it was an emotional reaction, and it's very disappointing."

Shabaz, who said he had never retired from a match in those circumstances before, agreed that his emotions clouded his judgment.

"It was an emotional decision and it was in the heat of the moment," Shabaz said in an interview several hours later. "It was a difficult time for me on the court, and I can't really put my finger on one thing, but in that moment it was tough for me to handle it. Unfortunately I handled it that way, which was not the right way. I'm sorry for it and wish that it had never happened."

With a few hours to reflect, Shabaz realized he had neglected to consider the impact his retirement would have on others he cares about.

"This is not what Virginia stands for," Shabaz said. "When you're involved in something like that as a player you tend to forget that you're playing for more than just yourself. It felt good for me personally to do that, but in the big scheme of things, I didn't have a clear mind of what exactly it would mean."

"I don't want to be known as a quitter, or have it interpreted that way," said Shabaz, who had lost to Johnson 7-6(3), 6-2 in the finals of the team competition. "It was something in the heat of the moment, and it really hasn't completely sunk in, but I'm regretful for those actions, and I'm just going to have to move forward from here."

Johnson’s abbreviated win set up a rematch of the USTA/ITA Indoor final last November, which Williams won 1-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Williams earned his spot in the final with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 victory over friend and teammate Tennys Sandgren on another unseasonably cool but brilliantly sunny Northern California day.

Recalling their first meeting, at age 8 or 9, Williams wasn’t surprised that their encounter in the NCAA semifinals went the distance.

“That was another long match,” said the sophomore from Knoxville. “That was the first time we met. I think it was the finals.“

Both claimed they didn’t like each other much then, but Sandgren and Williams, who are staying in the same hotel room this week, became close friends during their junior days.

Putting that aside for a place in the NCAA final, Williams and Sandgren played a tense and grueling first set with many 20 or 30 stroke rallies. After breaking and holding to claim the first set, Williams admitted he couldn’t continue at that pace.

“He definitely raised his game, and to tell you the truth, I kind of needed a breather,” said Williams, who is looking to become only the second Tennessee player to win the NCAA title, joining associate head coach Chris Woodruff, the 1993 champion. “The first set took a lot out of both of us, we had some ridiculous long rallies, and it was very physical.”

“I couldn’t really see that he was tired, but some of the shots he was missing, I was like, he’s got to be tired, because normally he wouldn’t make these errors,” Sandgren, also a sophomore, said of his comeback in the second set.

“I was feeling it too, but he kind of gave it to me, and I just ran with it in the second set,” Sandgren said. “But he regrouped, got his energy back.”

Williams’s forehand was back on target in the third set, while Sandgren began to miss the point-ending volleys he was making in the first two sets, and the final set went quickly.

With his win at the National Indoor in New York, Williams is one of only three players to defeat Johnson in the 2010-2011 college season.

“He’s on a 32 or 33 match winning streak, which just shows how much of an unbelievable player he is,” Williams said. “He doesn’t lose too many college matches. It’s always tough, and you always know you’re in for a fight.”

Cal-Berkeley’s Juricova, the top seed, had cruised into the semifinals, dropping only 14 games in four matches. But against Gibbs, Juricova needed every big serve and groundstroke she could muster to come away with a victory in a three-hour slugfest.

Trailing 4-2 in the third set, Juricova raised her level, holding and then breaking Gibbs at love to even the set, much to the dismay of the partisan Stanford fans.

Gibbs held her nerve serving at 5-6, sending the match into the ultimate pressure cooker, while cheers of ‘Let’s Go Stanford” reverberated throughout the stadium.

The roar didn’t last long, as Juricova took a 5-1 lead, using her serve to control the points, while Gibbs struggled with her backhand. In the final three points she served, Juricova hit two aces and a service winner to claim a spot in the final for the second consecutive year.

“I definitely wasn’t feeling as confident as I would want to in my service games,” said Gibbs, 18. “Whereas on her serve games, when she started feeling her serve a little more, it made it really hard for me to work into the points, much less a game.”
Juricova said she enjoyed the atmosphere, even though the majority of fans were against her.

“I think I was mentally ready for it to be really challenging,” she said. “She’s a great player, it was a great match, and the crowd was amazing, so that really helped me pull through it. It’s nice to have something to rely on when it’s really close.”
For the second year in a row, Juricova will be facing a local favorite on her home courts, having lost in the final to Georgia’s Chelsey Gullickson last year in Athens.

This year, it’s Stacey Tan who will be boosted by the hometown fans. The sophomore from Lakewood, Calif. hadn’t had many opportunities to compete against top-ranked players this year, but she has made the most of her chances this week.
“I was just so happy to get into this tournament,” Tan said. “Not making it in last year, it was a really big deal for me to make it in and see how I could do against all these other top players.”

Both Tan and Embree played three-setters in the team final, but although Tan called the stretch of matches the past two weeks “exhausting,” it was Embree who broke down physically.

Noticeably limping from the opening games of the match, Embree managed to come back from a 4-0 deficit to win the set, but when she dropped the second set, Embree realized she couldn’t play another set and retain any hope of competing credibly in the final.

“The nail was torn off her toe and she was having real issues with her skin,” said Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist, explaining the injuries that caused Embree to retire.

“She's the toughest player I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching. For Lauren not to continue, you know that she was hurt badly.”

Ranked 43rd nationally, Tan believes her advantage in the final will come from the lack of pressure she’s feeling at this level of competition.

“I haven’t put a lot of pressure on myself in this tournament because I know it’s just a great opportunity for me to play these top players. It’s almost like testing my abilities against them and seeing how well I can do.”

In addition to Tan, Stanford will have four other players vying for national titles on Monday. Hilary Barte, who won the doubles title with Lindsay Burdette last year, will try to repeat with Lindsay’s younger sister Mallory. The third seeds will play Clemson’s Josipa Bek and Keri Wong, seeded fifth, for the championship.

The men’s doubles final will feature four left-handers, with Stanford’s Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher, who are No. 5 seeds, taking on Texas A&M’s Austin Krajicek and Jeff Dadamo, the No. 3 seeds for the NCAA title and a possible US Open main draw doubles wild card.


bradg said...

Thank you Colette for the thorough write-up of the situation involving Shabaz. Ever since coming home after grabbing a bite just in time to see the players walking off the court, I wondered what had happened. Luckily I noticed your (and others) tweets regarding Shabaz's retirement, yet was still confused. Out of all the stories I've read of the occurrence, yours stands above the rest. Thanks again, -Brad

Jason said...

Shabaz should be suspended from tennis for 2 years for this incident. To show such disrespect to the game and your university by quitting in the middle of the game. Don't see much of a future for his tennis after this! Johnson is a great player but Williams will break down that slice bhand and win in 3. Shabaz you embarrassed UVA!

love-tennis said...

Thanks for the update. I feel so bad for Shabaz. We all have made foolish mistakes that we wish we could fix. Sometimes emotions take over and you must learn to control them. Easier said than done in your early 20's.

I could totally see it being hard to adjust to the linespeople. After having been there during all the team matches, I am not even so sure even about having the chair overrule the supposed "clear" mistakes. They can't see the angles from the chair.

I guess it's better than nothing though and does help keep order on the court.

Anyway, I do feel bad for him. What a sad ending for tennis.

overblown said...

The notion that it is hard to adjust to having linesman on the court is so lame. Clearly they dont expect to make it to real tennis in the pros if thats the case. This kid Shabaz has the game to be a top 150 player or better. A 2 year ban Jason. Come on. You clearly have never done anything atheltic in your life. He made an error in judgement. PERIOD. He didnt embarrass his school or his coach. He embarrassed himself and his parents and thats it. Anyone knows his coach would not condone that. He is a big boy in his twenties. Nobody can make a 21 year do or not do anything. They make their decisions and they have to live with them.

UVAfan said...

What a lame excuse about linesman . Didn't he won Wimbledon in juniors ? They have line judges there.

Even if it was in the heat of the moment , it was still disrespectful -- not only to yourself , your opponent, and everyone involved , especially your coach and UVA.
Regardless of the situation , you don't represent you school that way ...

Too bad ...

manoverboard said...

Jason, that's going WAY overboard. It's not as big of a deal as you're making it out to be.

It IS embarrassing to more than just himself, though. It's embarrassing to the tennis program and disrespectful to the coach and everything the coach stands for. Some are saying it's a good way to protest the system, but I saw it as unacceptable.

That being said, it's completely understandable if you put yourself in his shoes. That doesn't make it right and surely there are better ways to handle that situation, but you can see where he was coming from at least.

Let's not blow things out of proportion.


Huge SC fan said...

As a huge USC fan I've also grown quite fond of the Virginia program and hope very much they win the team title soon, as they're very deserving, especially with the class coach who leads them. And I became an admirer of Showbizz as well, and remain so, despite what happened, which clearly was a big mistake. He seems to be an upstanding, intelligent, introspective young main who broke down from the enormous pressures that had accumulated over the past four years and the terrible disappointment of not having reached the biggest goal. I hope this all blows over quickly and that both Michael and the UVA program go on to great success in the future. Fight on Michael!

Brandon said...

Good coverage Collette. Regarding the Shabaz match- He lost his cool, probably thought he could get back at everyone and everything that was frustrating him by walking off the court, and later acknowledged that his actions were unfair and disrespectful to his school and supporters. Anyone who has competed at a high level in any sport can relate to the feelings that overwhelmed Shabaz. Tennis, being the individual sport that it is, only amplifies the emotions, actions, and consequences. A big error in judgment on his part, and also a clear lesson that the courageous and right thing to do is often also the hardest.

Austin said...

That moment of poor judgement just summed up his tennis career, whether he likes it or not. He will be remembered for this incident forever unfortuantely. Nothing he can do to take it back. A lot of big points went against him, but what happened just cant ever happen. A captain doesnt do something like that. Neither does someone with the fortitude to make it on the pro tour. Its just a shame for everyone involved; player, coach, fans, opponent...and the players he beat along the way that would have killed to be in the semifinals. Some of those calls were certainly questionable, but you just have to fight through it.

Luckily it didnt happen in the finals, so Johnson will be able to have a proper celebration. He will lose a total of six games today. Whether thats 2&4, 5&1, 3&3, I have no clue, but he will lose six games...maybe 7 if its a clean 3&4 win with one break each set.

Juricova will lose 3-4 games.

Mens dubs finals is going to be awesome. I think A&M are the better team, but the home crowd will get behind the Stanford boys and carry them to an extremely close three set victory.

Also think Barte/Burdette get it done as well. If this was in Athens I would take the Clemson duo, but once again I think the home crowd gets them through it.

WestBerkeleyFlats said...

It's Cal in sports and Berkeley in academics and UC-Berkeley overall, not Cal-Berkeley. After all, no one calls UCLA - Cal-Los Angeles.

love-tennis said...

You know, if you are a parent and a coach, if you are a good one, you do everything you can to make that child be a good person. Sometimes, they don't listen or just make a foolish mistake.

So to say that the coach and parents were embarrassed might be true, but no one can control a teenager past about the age of 16, much less someone in his early 20's. So certainly the parents & coach (especially in the individuals) should not be ashamed.

He did what he did, is regretful, but don't pull the coach and parents in there. And if you do, you haven't had to be in control of a teenager. And when you do, good luck.

Seen worse from young adults said...

He walked off of a tennis court. That is all. Not that big a deal. It's over

overblown again said...

Austin..That is a stupid comment to think thats all he'll be remembered for and will define his college career. Nothing else to be said there.

Austin said...

@overblown again,

Stupid, really? In the future when trying to explain who he is to someone that wont be one of, if not THE first thing that someone says about him? Get real.

Quick, Jeff Tarango, tell me one thing about him. What popped in your head, Wimbldeon? That's what I thought.

Your comment about how he didnt embarrass his school could be deemed as stupid by some people. This isnt juniors, why would he have embarrassed his parents? He was wearing UVA attire.

Get a clue said...

Austin, Youre right this isnt juniors where immaturity would be excused. Hes 20 or 21 years old nobody can make him do or not do anything. No matter what school or coach he played for it would have happened. Period. It was a personal choice he made at that moment to deal with the situation. Why because hes in his 20's not a kid. Jeff Tarango is not defined by his incident at Wimbeldon. I think you and eveyone in tennis knows he was a good player period. Of course we all know of the incident but he is not remembered soley for that incident and that is not what comes to mind when his name comes up. Shabaz will be remembered far more for playing on a couple undefeated teams that didnt get it done at the NCAA's than the individual tournament. Your know it all pat yourself on the back stuff is getting as tiresome as Man on the Moon did.

He embarrassed his parents because they are his flesh and blood not UVA. They raised him and he is a reflection on that upbringing. Common sense really.

tennisforlife said...

Shabaz has made what appears to be a sincere apology. He made a mistake. we all have. I certainly wouldn't put in the Jeff Tarango class. Let the kid move on. He seems like a good player and hopefully he has a lot more tennis in him

John said...

Shabaz was on the Davis Cup Team,not long ago.UVA was really let down.Must we see the USTA as embarrassed as UVA ?

5.0 Player said...

Austin-I've always respected your opinion and agree with much of what you've said regarding the Shabaz incident. However, I do disagree somewhat with the Tarango analogy.

Yes, I agree that when most professional tennis fans think of Jeff Tarango the first thing that pops into our minds is his walking off the court at Wimbledon. However, a major reason that we think of the Wimbledon incident is that Tarango was an otherwise little known "journeyman" on the pro tour and this incident made him more well-known and it sort of highlighted his career. This is why when we think of Andre Agassi we don't immediately think of all his negative incidents such as his recreational use of chrystal meth, his spitting in the umpire's direction during the U.S. Open, etc. Similarly when we think of Jim Courier we don't immediately think of the time that he started reading a book during the game changeover while he was suffering from burnout. The reason we don't is that both athletes were well-known players who accomplished a lot on the pro tour. Similarly, Shabaz accomplished many things in college tennis and was always one of the marquee players on a marquee team. So, while people will certainly remember this incident I don't think it will be the first thing that pops into most people's mind when his name comes up. Had he otherwise been not well-known then the incident would stick out more in his career like is probably the case with that less known player who was defaulted in the first game of his match in this tournament.