Thursday, November 5, 2015

One on one with Ryan Shane

Ryan Shane. (c)
May 2015 was a remarkable month for Ryan Shane. His University of Virginia Cavaliers (also known as Hoos) won the NCAA national championship with Shane playing at #1 in the line-up in both singles and doubles, going undefeated in the former category. Immediately afterward, Shane won the men's singles title in dramatic fashion against Noah Rubin.

On Monday, Shane played the first round of the Charlottesville Men's Pro Challenger, one of three Hoos to receive a main draw wild card. He fell to Sekou Bangoura thanks in part to 11 double faults. But after an injury-plagued summer, he's had a nice fall run, winning the consolation bracket of the Oracle Masters and then his first Futures singles title, in nearby Costa Mesa. He also won a set off Jeremy Chardy at the U.S. Open.

On Wednesday, I corralled the big righty with the powerful one-hander to discuss his past, present, and immediate future in college and pro tennis.

OTR: If I were a betting man, which I'm not, I probably could have gotten a pretty good price on you winning both the team and singles championship last year. How did you do it?

RS: I mean, all through the year, I worked hard. I found weaknesses in my game and worked with the coaches to kind of perfect them almost. And I feel all through the semester, each match I looked back and figured out things I could have done better, and kind of had it all together by the end of the year.

OTR: Describe the team dynamic last year. You had a number of young players who weren't around for the first championship [in 2013].

RS: Yeah. We had a lot of guys who -- obviously that was their first championship, but we were probably the closest team we've ever been in school history.  We spent a lot of time off the court together, we went on team trips. So I feel there was a lot of camaraderie between us and we all fought for one another on the court more than we ever have in the past.

OTR: I know you're not allowed to say anything bad, but tell me what Brian Boland means to this program and this institution.

RS: I mean, he's the rock of the whole team. He works countless hours behind the scenes, giving us every opportunity possible. He kills himself for the program, and he really focuses now on developing people, more than players. He's more concerned with how we act and how we compose ourselves, and everything we say on and off the court and I think that helped a lot of guys. We were held accountable for everything we said, and it came with consequences if we slipped up. I think that really made a big impact.

OTR: Talk me through the match with Rubin. It looked like you were down and out completely, and then ... did the rains coming help you?

RS: Honestly, outdoors -- I think I got back to 5-3 outdoors. I just settled in. I came out very nervous and tentative to kind of do what I knew I should. I was going for shots I shouldn't have, I wasn't really thinking, I wasn't breathing. So you go down 5-0, you've got nothing left to lose and that's when I realized that it's just a tennis match, and with Scott Brown in the back of my court helping me calm down, I got back on the right track.

Then we went indoors -- I feel like that almost threw me off a little bit more, because he held serve very easily and broke me right off the bat indoors, and I had to find it again. And then once I found it, I kind of just rolled with it. The third set I was calm, breathing, I wasn't going for anything I couldn't make. I was hitting 3 or 4 good shots before I tried to finish the point. There was nothing too stupid, basically, that I did. I was very calm and thought through every shot.

OTR: How do you even get to a final after the emotional high of winning a team title? How do you go out the next day and say "oh, I have another tournament immediately"?

RS: It's hard. Winning the team championship is probably one of the best feelings you have - you get to share it with your teammates. But in 6 or 7 hours, they're gone on the road again, and it's just you and you have to dig deep. I'm not going to lie: the next match I had very low motivation. I had to really dig deep because I'd played singles and doubles every day for six days, basically, with one or two days off. So not only are you out of motivation but your body's pretty beat up. It was really just the people I had around. My parents, my coaches, they really helped get me going. My girlfriend stayed. They all helped, they were there through the whole tournament. And my teammates, obviously, wished me good luck, texted me after every match. So I still had a lot of support to help me get through it.

OTR: And I guess once you survive a motorcycle gang shoot-out, anything is possible.

RS: Yeah and at the end there were two tornadoes that touched down within like 10 miles. So it was kind of a crazy way to end the trip. But honestly, Waco was a lot of fun. It has its moments, like 120 people getting arrested a mile from your hotel. But once you ... honestly, thinking back at that it's kind of wild ... but everything else was really nice. The facility was insane, probably one of the nicest in the country. If you just kind of stay around that area, it's not too bad.

OTR: How did your summer go?

RS: I was off for six weeks. I couldn't move at all really. I had a hip problem, an ankle problem, and a wrist problem so I could do nothing, really. I couldn't work out at all, so I got really out of shape in six weeks. You lose everything pretty quickly. So I spent a lot of time -- and even now, I don't feel like I'm where I was in May, I think I've played like 15 matches total. So it was tough at the beginning of the summer, but I'm getting back on track the best I can from where I was 3 or 4 months ago.

OTR: You won a singles title on the Futures circuit. What was that like?

RS: Coaching staff helped me through it. I was kind of tentative to play, get back into matches after my injuries. My last tournament basically being NCAAs and then coming into a few tournaments in the summer, and then the Open when I had no pressure -- kind of jump back into tournaments with a lot of pressure. What really helped me was I played Oracle, a college tournament, right before. I lost first round and kind of realized again, it's just tennis. And then I won a few matches there against top-five guys and rolled into Costa Mesa with a lot of confidence. I was back to where I was in May, just playing tennis, not thinking about the results at all.

OTR: I've noticed, in the few matches I've seen in person, some issues with double faults.

RS: The six weeks of just not hitting a serve just has me doubting it, thus hurting my game a lot, because I base my whole game on my serve.  I think on Monday I threw in 11 double faults, where if I had cut those down I think the match would have been completely different. I felt the need to press on my ground strokes and kind of play like I did at the beginning of the NCAAs where I pressed on shots I shouldn't have because I felt my serve wasn't going to come through. I went out [Monday] night, hit probably 100-150 serves, kind of feel it out again. It's a cut back -- I think I had 17 in one of the summer tournaments.

Still, it's a setback. In Costa Mesa I had worked on it every day after every match. But coming out here, not playing in a month, I definitely doubted my serve a lot, and that kills me whereas 4-5 months ago, I had complete faith in my serve, and that makes the biggest difference.

OTR: How do you see the Hoos' season shaping up this year?

RS: I mean, we have the same team except for one guy, so...

OTR: Kind of a big guy, though. [Last year's senior captain Mitchell Frank.]

RS: Yeah, I mean, honestly Frank has done a lot for us. But every single guy coming back and being in the position that we've been in last year ... we have a lot of veterans, guys who have been in pretty much every situation, and someone will definitely step up and hopefully take Frank's place. I know they're big shoes to fill, but we definitely have 10 guys who can all play for us so I think, we're putting in a lot of work, we're still bonding as a team, so I think hopefully we'll have a great season.

OTR: [Asks about the UVA spring line-up]

RS: We have so many players, anyone can play anywhere. I honestly can't say what the line-up will be right now because everyone's playing really well.

OTR: How's your brother [former UVA teammate Justin Shane] doing?

RS: He's good. He semi'd a few futures, he's been playing a decent amount, but he's been hurt throughout the year. He's been working really hard, he's got a fitness coach back home [in Northern Virginia].  He's working with him a lot, especially when he's not playing tennis. If he hurts his lower body, he keeps him in shape with his upper body.

Right now he hurt his finger in Canada -- I think his teammate hit his finger when they were playing doubles. So he has, I think they call it trigger finger.  He can only hit backhand slices, but he still hits twice a day, hitting backhand slices. He's working really hard. I think if he can get healthy and play a full schedule, he can do well.

OTR: You think we can see him on the Challenger circuit?

RS: Oh, for sure. Over the summer [at the Champaign Futures] he semi'd a future and he was dominating the semis and he snapped his knee ... I'm not sure what happened, where he couldn't bend it and had to pull out. He was up a set and I think 4-1. He tried to play it out but obviously he went down 6-4 [actually 7-5], he couldn't move.

He's one of the best ball-strikers I've ever hit with. I'm not saying that because he's my brother. Other than myself I don't think I've hit against someone who hits the ball that hard. He just takes my ball and just rips it back at me. I don't experience that very often. If he can get healthy, he's going to be a force to play.

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