Former college star shines on ATP tour
Pro tennis player gives back to local community; looks to make his way back into top 75, qualify for this year's U.S. Open
Cavalier Daily Staff Writer
The Virginia men's tennis team has made gigantic strides in recent years from an average program to a national powerhouse. This year the men's team finished fifth in the nation -- its highest ranking ever. One of the people responsible for this meteoric rise is Brian Vahaly, arguably one of the greatest players to ever swing a racquet at U.Va.
Vahaly and close friend and teammate Huntley Montgomery put U.Va. tennis on the map by achieving amazing results for the Cavaliers. In 2001, his final year at Virginia, Vahaly reached the finals of the NCAA singles championships and he and Montgomery ended that year ranked No. 1 in the nation in doubles. Currently ranked 176 in the world on the ATP tour, Vahaly has been ranked as high as 64 and believes he can be there again.
"I still feel I have some great tennis left and feel as though I have room to improve," he said.
Great tennis is something with which the Virginia alumnus is familiar. Vahaly beat Juan Carlos Ferrero when he was ranked No. 1 in the world just before Ferrero won the 2003 French Open. Additionally, he has had good results at several ATP tournaments that year, reaching the quarterfinals at Indian Wells and the semifinals of Memphis before losing to Andy Roddick. Roddick, a close friend, and Vahaly teamed up to beat the top ranked doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan in Washington D.C. that same year.
Being part of the ATP tour has allowed Vahaly to travel the world, but Vahaly says it's not as glamorous as people think.
"I'm on the road every week and rarely get to spend anytime at home with friends and family," Vahaly said. "I can't remember the last time I was in the same city for over two weeks."
With all of his energy devoted to tennis and travel, it's hard to imagine that Vahaly has time for anything else. Yet with the help of some of his friends in the sports community including Roddick, Atlanta Braves infielder Keith Lockhart and fellow Wahoo Patrick Kerney of the Atlanta Falcons (CLAS, '99), Vahaly has established a charitable foundation for after school programs for underprivileged kids in Atlanta that provides computers, tutors, and free tennis lessons to keep them off the streets.
"I always felt it was important to give back to the community, especially when so many people took part in the success of my career," Vahaly said. "It's really an awesome thing and something I'm very very proud of."
Of course, he stills follows the Cavaliers and the great tennis program he helped build.
"They've had an amazing run," Vahaly said. "I honestly feel as though they can win the national championship next year. I continually speak with [Virginia men's tennis coach] Brian Boland and know he has what it takes to take this program to the top."
He regularly keeps tabs with Montgomery and other former teammates as well.Montgomery has fond memories of the glory years with Vahaly.
"We've had some great times together," Montgomery said. "I think some of the best times were just coming up with big wins to help the 'Hoos take down tough teams. We are good friends and I'm sure it will remain that way."
Vahaly is currently playing World Team Tennis for the New York Buzz in Albany, NY. At the end of July it is back on the tour which he hopes will culminate in a berth at the U.S. Open in New York at the end of August. But what about life after the tour?
"I graduated from the Comm. School so I've always had life after tennis on my mind," Vahaly said. "I never saw my self completely as a one dimensional tennis player, but right now my focus remains on tennis...as long as I'm still enjoying myself."
Whatever he does in the future however, Virginia will almost certainly always remain in Vahaly's blood.
"I continue to wear my U.Va. clothes wherever I go," he said.
Once a Cavalier, always a Cavalier.