the 'A' list
Magazine sees special quality in Vahaly
By PLOTT BRICE
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
Brian Vahaly is either one refreshing blast from the past or a potential
trendsetter whose style and demeanor may sneak up on even the most
obnoxious of today's superstars.
obscurity he enjoyed as a tennis player preparing for The Championships
at Wimbledon was blown away last week when People magazine named
him one of the world's 25 Most Eligible Bachelors. "I was surprised,"
Vahaly, 23, said from London. "It's crazy. It's just not something
you think about -- being named to that. I am honored to be with
those guys." He pauses for a moment and then laughs. Maybe
this laughter will, as his one-time coach Jerry Baskin suggests,
"take a little pressure off. He's always so focused."
perfect," said Kathy Baskin, the coach's wife. "Brian
is what every mother is looking for. He is a college graduate, he
is nice looking, and he has great morals. Plus, he's a fabulous
has what some see as a glamorous lifestyle," said Jerry Baskin,
who runs the Baskin Tennis Academy in east Cobb. "He is articulate,
makes good money. Considering all I know about Brian, I'd ask him:
So who is this Prince William guy, anyway?"
of course, shares a spot on People's list of most eligible bachelors.
But William has no shot at winning Britain's beloved Wimbledon.
marks the start of Wimbledon, and Vahaly's second appearance on
the famed grass courts. In 2002, he got in as a qualifier and lost
in the first round.
81st in the ATP Tour entry rankings, Vahaly began his tennis in
metro Atlanta with Baskin. He played ALTA and USTA, winning with
balance and technique and no overpowering weapons. He played smart,
and right into a scholarship at the University of Virginia, where
he was a three-time All-American.
had it all," said his sister, Kelly Vahaly Long, an Atlanta
resident. "He had the brains and the athletic talent. But he
was always a good kid."
excelling at tennis, he also ripped through a double major in finance
and business management, as one would expect from a student who
scored 790 in math on the SAT.
turned pro after his senior year, so far down in the rankings that
not many people expected to see him at the grand slam tournaments.
He lost in the 2001 NCAA singles final to Georgia's Matias Boeker,
whom many thought would be far ahead of him now. But Boeker is laboring
in the sport's minor leagues.
2001, Vahaly was setting out for the tour with a "terrible"
serve and forehand, according to Baskin.
knew the top players would attack there," Baskin said. "We
worked on those areas, and we sat down and set goals. I was really
thinking top 200 by the end of 2002. But he made top 100."
he has made leaps over lesser players, he also has defeated some
kingpins. He has a win over 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos
in slams, where the luck of the draw is so important, Vahaly has
stumbled. He drew Andre Agassi in the first round at the Australian
Open in January and lost. He drew No. 1 ranked Lleyton Hewitt in
the first round of the French and lost, although he did take a set
think those moments on a center court at a grand slam and televised
all over the world are moments to cherish," Vahaly said. "I
do. And I hope I have learned something from them."
the luck of the draw. Vahaly's opening match today is against Italy's
Filippo Volandri, a clay court player uncomfortable with grass court
think it is a great opportunity for me," Vahaly said. "Then
again, no one expects him to go far in this tournament, so he has
nothing to lose. But I still feel I have an advantage.''
who is sharing a house at Wimbledon with Jan-Michael Gambill --
once noted by People as one of the world's 50 Most Glamorous People
-- will hit with his buddy Andy Roddick in practice. Roddick, a
rising young American star with a serve that has reached 149 mph,
is among the oddsmakers' favorites to win Wimbledon.
with Andy is a huge advantage for me," Vahaly said. "It
has been good for my game. But I will also look around to hit with
somebody whose style is more like [Volandri].
Vahaly win today, his second-round opponent will be the winner of
the Tommy Robredo-Jose Acasuso match. Both are clay courters. Should
Vahaly survive those two rounds, he will begin his real Wimbledon
test in a quarter of the draw that includes some huge hitters --
Roddick, Greg Rusedski, fellow Mariettan Robby Ginepri, Taylor Dent
and defending champ Hewitt.
of this is exciting for Vahaly, as it would be for any young person.
But Vahaly right now has planted his ego in his faith. He was raised
Catholic and attended Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in downtown
Atlanta, a church he still attends with his family when he's home.
calls the Rev. Greg Thompson, a Presbyterian minister he met while
at Virginia, his mentor. They talk weekly, either over the phone
or via e-mail.
don't know how many people are familiar with U.Va., but this is
a campus obsessed with image, and Brian was one of the more popular
kids on campus," Thompson said. "But Brian was interested
in more than that. He wanted something more substantial in his life.
He was reaching for a deeper level.
know him. This is not a fleeting thing. The People magazine thing?
I think he will be polite about it and still be able to see it for
what it is. It's a nice thing, but it's a silly thing. It's a money-making
thing for the magazine. Next year, there will be 25 more people.
He knows that."
now, Vahaly begins to handle the photographers, the teenage girls
and the unforgiving grass at Wimbledon.
in all of this, the spiritual side is very important to me,"
Vahaly said. "The most important thing."