Tennis Week Interview
Vahaly is living proof that nice guys dont always finish last
sometimes they even finish in the top 25. Much like his friend,
James Blake, Vahaly is a very down to earth, polite, modest guy,
who does his best to give back to the game that has given him so
nice guy image also did not hurt when People magazine named Vahaly
one of world's top 25 sexiest bachelors, a distinction he shares
with Prince William and Ashton Kutcher.
most two year olds were content spending their time visiting Sesame
Street or calmed by the soothing sounds of Mister Rogers' voice,
young Brian Vahaly was out on the tennis courts grooving his strokes
under the watchful eyes of parents, Barry and Karen. This early
start paid big dividends for Vahaly, who later would go on to play
four years of college tennis for the University of Virginia, earning
All American honors in three of his four years. Vahaly also has
the distinction of being the schools all-time winningest player.
turning pro, Vahaly struggled to adapt to the ultra-competitive
circuit and briefly contemplated retiring and moving to Australia
with a long-time friend. Suffering a confidence crisis, Vahaly suddenly
started to put wins together and show the form that made him one
of the top collegiate players in the nation.
year, Vahaly has produced the most successful season of his professional
career. In January, he reached the quarterfinals ofAdelaide. Later
that same month he had the misfortune of drawing eventual champion
Andre Agassi in the first round of the Australian Open. He quickly
rebounded a month later reaching the semifinals in Memphis. On a
last minute whim, he entered the qualifying tournament at Indian
Wells and then went on an impressive run registering a significant
series of victories over U.S. Open and Roland Garros quarterfinalist
Fernando Gonzalez, Roland Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrero and
Tommy Robredo, before succumbing to Vince Spadea in the quarterfinals.
2001 NCAA singles finalist, who celebrates his 24th birthday tomorrow
(Saturday) Vahaly struggled, as did many of the young Americans,
during the European clay-court season. His lack of experience on
the European clay and British lawn tennis was a hindrance to greater
success overseas. However this young American remains positive about
his chances across the pond in the future.
down with Vahaly in the relaxed setting of Wimbledons Aorangi
Park, (practice courts area). The constant pop of tennis balls careening
off the finely- tuned racquets of ATP pros Andre Sa and doubles
partner Dominik Hrbaty was the perfect soundtrack for our casual
Tennis Week: Most of the young American players had a tough time
this spring and summer during the clay and grass-court seasons.
Obviously, most Americans grow up playing on hard courts. Did you
guys feel some extra pressure out there to continue the success
of the hard-court season?
Vahaly: Well, its like you said: most of us grew playing on
the hard courts. Wimbledon was only like my third or fourth grass-court
tournament. We all received so much attention starting in Memphis,
then at Indian Wells, followed by the NASDAQ. So the expectations
Week: With as many events as there are on the pro circuit how difficult
is it to find the time to work on your clay-court game?
Vahaly: It hard to practice on clay through the year because weve
got hard court and indoor events until next April. Its frustrating
for all of us, nobody likes to lose for seven or eight weeks in
a row. Most of the older pro have told me to be patient and that
it takes time to develop your game on clay.
Week: What is like to play against guys like Andre and Todd, who
you idolized as a kid?
Vahaly: Its huge. It hard to concentrate out there when youre
playing these guys because Ive watched them play so many matches
on T.V. When you've been watching these guys play for like over
15 years it can be hard to take it seriously. What I mean is that
there is a shock value to these matches at first. For me only being
out here for two years a lot of this still kind of shocks me. Like
playing at Wimbledon and this year the French Open for the first
time. Ive been thrown right into it. I gotten to play on center
court in three of the four Grand Slams.
Week: Looking forward to the U.S. Open. Youve had your best
results on the hard court, is this the Slam that means the most
Vahaly: Its one that I obviously gear towards. I have a lot
of friends and family in that area. We are hoping to get a lot of
support there. Thats the one that we all like to do our best
in. To say that one Slam is bigger than the others, to me no. I
watched them all as a kid. So any one of them that I could do well
in Id take in a heart beat.
Week: When did you really start to believe in yourself as a professional?
Vahaly: I competed well last summer, I had wins over (Davide) Sanguinetti
and (Jan) Vacek. I would win a round or two at the major tournaments.
But it wasn't really until Memphis where I was able to string a
few wins together. Then at Indian Wells, I was able to beat guys
in the top 25 for back-to-back-to-back days. That really meant something.
But at the same time you do not want to get overconfident.
Week: You were not the only young American that did well at Indian
Wells this year. I know that you were very supportive of one another?
Can you talk about your relationship with the other guys?
Vahaly: Andy (Roddick) and I hang out all the time. We go to dinner
together, we like to play cards. Whats great about Andy is
that he doesnt look at himself as any different than the rest
of us. He has gone out of his way to help us. Hes gone to
my matches with a towel wrapped around his head and he's out there
to support me. That means a lot to me and the other guys that he
comes and watches. To see Mardy (Fish), and James (Blake) there
and Robby (Ginepri) comes out, it really helps. We literally go
out of our way to support each other. These guys have become pretty
good friends, which I was not counting on. James and I met in college
and kept in touch through email. I got know the guys really well
in the futures and challengers, when nobody was anybody. We got
to know each other for who we were, it wasnt a matter of this
intense competition for Grand Slams right away. We were all hanging
out in these smaller towns, going out having fun together and getting
to be better tennis players as a group. The friendships that we
formed in the last year and a half were there when we were all ranked
in the 500s, 600s, miserable, and wondering why we were playing
and wondering if we were every going to make it.
Week: Whats your living situation like these days?
Vahaly: Andy actually just asked me to come and live down with him
in Boca Raton. I may end up doing that. All the guys inTampa have
asked me to move down there as well. I need to make some decisions.
Initially, I was training with Robby Ginepri in Atlanta, but hes
going to move down toTampa.
Week: How does it feel to be one of America's 25 hottest bachelors?
Wait dont you have a girlfriend?
Vahaly: An ex-girlfriend. We broke up about two months ago. People
Magazine actually called me two weeks later saying 'We heard that
you and your girlfriend broke up.' I was like 'I dont know
how you heard, but whatever.' You would not believe how much I have
been getting teased by the guys about being in the magazine.
Week: Now you know how James Blake and Jan-Michael Gambill must
Vahaly: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess. But they do it all the time, this
was my first time.