- - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Some of the world’s most famous doubles pairs could hardly be more similar, with sibling duos the Williams sisters and Bryan brothers each winning career Grand Slams. Yet the most accomplished team in college tennis points to its differences as a key to success.

Virginia’s Drew Courtney and Michael Shabaz enter the NCAA championships, which begin Thursday in Stanford, Calif., chasing their second consecutive doubles title and hoping to help the top-seeded Cavaliers to the elusive outdoor team title.

“Nobody sets a better example than Drew Courtney and Michael Shabaz with their day-to-day work ethic,” Virginia coach Brian Boland said. “I’m just absolutely blessed to coach these two.”

Though they’d known each other for years coming up through the youth ranks in Northern Virginia, Courtney and Shabaz didn’t find out how well they played together until arriving at UVa. Call it a case of opposites attracting.

The reserved and soft-spoken Courtney, a 6-5, 205-pound junior out of Robinson Secondary, brings a powerful serve. The outgoing Shabaz lives up to his “Showbiz” nickname and the 5-10, 185-pound Fairfax product is arguably the nation’s best in the return game.

“When Drew and I are playing well, we are usually serving and returning at a high level,” Shabaz said. “He obviously has a bigger frame than me, and he uses it to have one of the biggest serves in college tennis. I probably have one of the more consistent returns. We keep it simple. A big part of our success is just serving and returning, and we try to dominate that phase of the game.”

When both have been healthy, they’ve been nearly unstoppable. The two are 20-3 this season and enter the championships as the No. 2 seed, but they struggled at times in the Charlottesville regional last week. Those problems can be chalked up to Courtney’s nagging foot injury.

But Courtney said he recovered and would be ready to go after undergoing an MRI over the weekend.

“Everything is OK,” Courtney said. “I met with the doctors late Saturday night, and they gave me some positive feedback. Everything is looking good and I should be out there on Thursday.”

That’s when the undefeated Cavaliers take on Illinois in the round of 16 of the team tournament — individual singles and doubles titles will be decided starting May 25. As important as repeating as double champs is to Courtney and Shabaz, winning the team title is even higher on their list.

Virginia has won the past four indoor championships but has yet to claim an outdoor title under Boland.

“It’s my No. 1 emphasis and obviously the main priority as a team,” said Shabaz, who also is the Cavs’ No. 1 singles player.

Whatever happens at Stanford, Courtney and Shabaz seem to have bright futures. Courtney has another year of eligibility at Virginia, and Shabaz is likely to hit the pro tour. But their success together means they haven’t ruled out continuing to team up after college.

Last summer at the Legg Mason Classic in Rock Creek Park, Courtney and Shabaz faced Bob and Mike Bryan, twin brothers with a seemingly permanent spot atop the ATP doubles rankings. The college kids pushed the Bryans hard in the opening round before losing 7-6, 6-4.

“The more you play with somebody the more comfortable you get,” Shabaz said. “We’ve definitely developed a nice comfort level between us. There’s so much that can happen. A lot of things change in a year, but depending on how I’m doing and what his situation is, I think it’s definitely an option for our future.”

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