CHARLOTTESVILLE — As practice wound down, Ryan Shane would imagine each point as if he were serving against a top professional tennis player. Match point against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, tied 6-6 in the fifth set against 6-foot-11 Ivo Karlovic — there were no situations or opponents off limits during a drill with University of Virginia assistant coach Dustin Taylor.
Those scenarios seem far removed from the training session at the U-Va. auxiliary courts on a humid mid-July afternoon, but they could come true as Shane takes steps toward becoming a professional. Winning the NCAA men’s singles title in late May and ending his junior season as the second-ranked college player have renewed Shane’s faith that this is the right path for him.
“I won one of the biggest tournaments in college, and that really helps with my confidence going into the pros,” he said. “It definitely reinforces my goal of being a professional tennis player.”
This summer will function as an early litmus test for Shane, 21, as he prepares for his final collegiate season before turning pro. He will play at the Citi Open qualifying tournament Saturday as a wild card and is expected to receive a main draw wild card into the U.S. Open, as is customary for the NCAA men’s and women’s singles champions.
“There’s a lot of upside with Ryan,” said Taylor, who has coached several top 100 players on the professional tour. “If he stays the course, learns what the tour entails, and he’s managed properly with coaches . . . and manages his body properly, he has a great chance of getting to where he wants to be.”
Shane grew up with a tennis court just outside his front door. Ryan’s father, Jack, had the green clay court installed at the Falls Church home when Ryan’s older brother, Justin, was born in 1992, and he taught both boys to play almost as soon as they could walk. Their younger brother, 17-year-old Zack, plays for Flint Hill School.
“I saw my older brother playing it, so my dad saw that I took an interest in it,” Ryan said. “He started working with me when I was old enough to hit a balloon.”
Jack grew up playing tennis recreationally and started hitting year-round as a Georgetown law student in the late 1980s. He noticed that his sons picked up the sport quickly, so he and his wife, Alaine, enrolled Justin and Ryan, both graduates of Stuart High, at 4 Star Tennis Academy in Fairfax before their 10th birthdays.
“Ryan could actually hit a ball over the net, and he had decent form,” Jack said. “I think he does have a gift in terms of his natural ability.”
But Ryan’s tennis career nearly ended before it had the chance to develop. He was 15, in his first tournament since an extended layoff because of a misdiagnosed shoulder injury and facing match point in the first round.
“I was thinking, if I had lost, I would’ve probably quit right there,” he said.
Ryan feared that an early tournament exit would signal he was no longer able to compete with the best in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“I never get nervous watching him,” Alaine said. “But that was the first time I thought he would throw down his racket and not pick it up if he lost.”
Ryan rallied to win the match and wouldn’t drop another set en route to winning the title. The experience made him appreciate the sport after missing nearly a year of competition.
“When I got back, I wanted to apply myself to tennis and work to become a professional because I missed it so much when I wasn’t playing,” he said. “I missed competing.”
When Virginia won the NCAA men’s tennis team title in 2013, Shane was a spectator as teammate Mitchell Frank clinched a 4-3 victory over perennial powerhouse UCLA.
As a freshman, Shane played sparingly in the starting lineup that consisted of several current pro players, including his brother Justin, the 2009 All-Met Player of the Year. But this year, Shane, with his booming 130-mph serve and powerful one-handed backhand, contributed heavily to the team’s 29-3 record and second national team title in three years — an ascension that Virginia Coach Brian Boland said is “almost unheard of.”
“Over my 20 years of head coaching, he’s as good as anyone,” Boland said. “Ryan’s potential is as high as anyone who’s ever played for me.”
In the men’s singles final, Shane lost the first five games to Wake Forest’s Noah Rubin, last year’s Wimbledon boys’ champion, and was down 5-4 in the second set before storming back to win the match, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.
With the victory, Shane became the second Virginia player to win the men’s singles title after current world No. 147 Somdev Devvarman in 2007 and 2008.
“I honestly didn’t know the score in the second set,” Shane said. “I just told myself, ‘Don’t think about the score.’ ”
Shane entered stadium court at the Citi Open qualifying round last summer and felt he had something to prove. Playing on a pro tournament’s main court for the first time in his career, Shane wanted to impress the hometown crowd.
Instead, Shane said, he was overwhelmed. He committed nine double faults with only two aces and was dismissed in straight sets by sixth-seed Alex Kuznetsov in the first round.
“I feel like I’ll be a little more ready to embrace the moment,” Shane said of this weekend. “I don’t have to come out and be an amazing player and just ripping the ball. I want to be there to show what I can do.”
As for his imaginary point against Karlovic, the 6-foot-4 Shane blasted an ace just out of Taylor’s reach. Shane stopped and asked whether the ball was in before slowly walking back to the baseline and lining up for another serve.
He may have won the point, but there were no reasons to celebrate. Even in a drill, Shane understood — on the professional tour, the match would be far from over.