College Tennis

Boland Has Devvarman, No. 1 Cavs Shooting for a National Title

Senior Somdev Devvarman, a native of India and the reigning national singles champion, has a school-record 150 victories and a 36-1 record this season.
Senior Somdev Devvarman, a native of India and the reigning national singles champion, has a school-record 150 victories and a 36-1 record this season. (By David Petkofsky -- University Of Virginia Media Relations)
Saturday, May 10, 2008

Brian Boland arrived as the coach of the Virginia tennis team seven years ago, greeted by a foundering program and nonexistent support. The Cavaliers were ranked outside the top 75 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. Perhaps 25 fans showed up for home matches.

Boland has turned that destitute beginning into a distant memory. Nearly 1,000 people show up to watch each match for Virginia, which is 28-0 and ranked No. 1 entering today's NCAA tournament first-round matchup with Fairleigh Dickinson at 10 a.m. in Charlottesville. Three weeks ago, the Cavaliers won their fourth ACC championship in five years.

"It's really been an enjoyable journey," Boland said.

The journey may have taken its most important turn nearly six years ago at a junior tennis tournament in Florida, where Boland tracked down a guitar-strumming, politics-loving kid from Chennai, India, named Somdev Devvarman. Boland knew Devvarman was ranked among the world's top 50 junior players, and he chatted him up before a match. Boland visited India; Devvarman visited Charlottesville. They decided the match was perfect.

Devvarman now is a senior, the school record holder with 150 individual victories, the reigning national singles champion, owner of a 36-1 record this season, a member of India's Davis Cup team and, along with Treat Huey (St. Stephen's/St. Agnes), half of one of the best doubles teams in the nation.

Perhaps the only thing Devvarman has not done is win a team national title, which has served as motivation for the Cavaliers even as they have dispatched opponents with ease.

"This is what we've been waiting all year for," Devvarman said. "The entire team is very fired up for this weekend. The seniors know this is our last chance to play in front of our home fans."

And Devvarman may know nearly all of those fans. He had lived in India his entire life before coming to Charlottesville, but he experienced an easy transition. He quickly became one of the most popular students on campus.

He plays guitar and sings Dave Matthews Band songs at a local bar Sunday and Monday nights, and his teammates pack the place. When Boland walks across campus with Devvarman, he's consistently amazed. Everyone who passes says, "Hi, Somdev."

The Cavaliers lead the nation in attendance, averaging between 800 and 900 viewers at Boyd Tinsley Tennis Courts. Crowds had been steadily building in what Boland called "one of the best tennis towns in America," but this year they exploded.

"This year has definitely been the most fun," Devvarman said. "We made a few friends in the fraternities. They get a little rowdy, which is good."

-- Adam Kilgore

© 2008 The Washington Post Company