No. 3 seed wins title, avoids upset at PNC Men's Futures of Pittsburgh tennis tournament

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MT. LEBANON -- On paper, Michael Shabaz looked to have a decisive advantage against Jason Tahir in the singles championship of the PNC Men's Futures of Pittsburgh tennis tournament, a USTA Pro Circuit event.

The third seed in the tournament, Shabaz held a world ranking of 698 against the 1,252nd-ranked Tahir, who didn't have to face any of the 11 players ranked ahead of him en route to the final.

The two met last month at a tournament in Rochester, N.Y., where Shabaz edged Tahir in a grueling, three-set battle. And on the court Sunday at Mt. Lebanon Tennis Center, it took everything Shabaz had to hold off another one of Tahir's upset bids.

Shabaz, a 25-year-old former University of Virginia star, grinded out a 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 victory on a damp afternoon and earned $1,440 for the win. Tahir picked up $848 while semifinalists took home $502.

"It's always hard to win a tournament," Shabaz said. "It doesn't matter if it's Boys 12s or Futures or any level, it's just hard to finish a tournament. So it's a sign of relief when you finish a tournament on a winning note. Fortunately, I had just enough to get through that at the end."

The match was suspended for more than 2 1/2 hours after the second set because of rainfall. Officials were forced to move the third set to a court on higher ground.

"Because of the rain, the courts were very slow and heavy, so it's hard to get your shots to penetrate through the court," Shabaz said. "It became more of a physical battle, just kind of hanging in there and mentally putting just enough, just one extra ball in the court and hope that would be just enough.

"I had to tell myself sometimes go for it and sometimes cool off," he added. "When you're leading, you're thinking to play offensive, but at the same time you don't want to be too offensive because then you just make a few errors. You try to make him work as much as possible. It's just finding that balance. Luckily, I just hit enough good shots just inside the line."

Tahir's biggest weapon was his serve. He slammed 11 aces in the match, including three in a row to help come back from 40-15 down to win the third game of the third set.

But his serve also cost him at times. He double faulted on six occasions and was frequently forced to play a safer second serve after putting his first into the net. Shabaz made him pay, breaking his serve twice in the third set and five times total.

"He's tall so he has a big trajectory," Shabaz said. "It wears on you over time. I just knew I had to mix it up and hope for some more second serves because if he hits his spots on the first serve the point's pretty much done. It comes down to just inches pretty much, and I was fortunate enough to get through it."

Shabaz went back to his hotel during the delay because he didn't think the courts would dry in time. He said he felt like he was still warming up in the first game once play resumed, but he came back from 2-1 down in the third set to win it, 6-4. He has two days off before playing his next event in his home state of Virginia.

Tahir played in the doubles final immediately after the singles final, but lost again. Tahir and Christopher Mengel were defeated by Marcos Giron and Connor Smith, 6-3, 6-3.

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Nick Veronica: nveronica@post-gazette.com and Twitter @NickVeronica.


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