A George Mason tennis tradition holds that players on the singles “ladder” may challenge teammates to move up a spot for match player later in the week. This season, Mustang senior Brian Sham earned the No. 1 spot from doubles partner Tim Goetz after defeating him in three of four “challenge matches” during practices.
Sham’s magical run came to an end this Thursday at Radford University, losing to Gate City’s Chad Sheppard 6-2, 6-3 in the group A singles semifinals after rolling through Bull Run District and Region B play.
Thanks to 36 unforced errors against just 13 winners, Sham was unable to overcome a sluggish first set, despite mounting a serious comeback later in the match. While the Region B champion, who was playing in his first state tournament, found success in serving, hitting in 74 percent of first serves, Sham had a hard time putting away the speedy Sheppard, who was seemingly able to return all of his opponent’s shots.
“You have to give Sheppard credit,” Mason coach Matt Sowers said. “He was more of a style that Brian is more accustomed to, staying on the baseline and pushing the player back and forth. Brian regrouped a couple times, but his drop shot was against a great athlete and he didn’t put him away at the net when he needed to.”
Sham frequently got caught in between the net and the baseline against the visibly fired-up Sheppard, who broke serve in the final game to take match-clinching set. After climbing up 5-0 the first set thanks to three breaks, Sheppard allowed Sham to break back before promptly dispatching him in the eighth game.
In the second set, Sham dropped serve after falling behind 1-0, but was aided by a few unforced errors by Sheppard, surging back to 3-2. Both players then went on to hold serve, but the early break gained by Sheppard proved to be too much, as the match ended in the ensuing game when a Sham forehand shot sailed long of the baseline.
“[You have] to give Sheppard credit. Brian was hitting more shots down the middle because his forehand started off inconsistent today,” Sowers said. “Brian put together some good rallies in there, had some good shots, and almost came back.”
“I thought I had a chance to come back in the match,” Sham added. “I was telling myself that I could easily come back if I kept fighting, but it was just too little too late.”
Up until the state tournament, the senior went relatively unchallenged, winning the Region B tournament with ease and dropping just two games in four regional sets along the way. However, against Sheppard in his mind,, it was just a matter of not executing.
“I just thought that I didn’t get the balls in,” Sham said. “I wasn’t hitting hard enough, wasn’t running around, I was just really show in all parts of my game. [Sheppard] played really well today, but I think it was more about my game and that I didn’t execute it right.”
He also noted that the pressure of the big stage at Radford got to him early Thursday morning.
“I thought I was going to go in and kick some butt, but once you step on the court you get this overwhelming feeling of pressure,” he said. “It was a great experience though, but I just wish it had lasted longer.”
On Friday, Sham and Mason will take on Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (ARGS) in the team semifinals and will feature a matchup at No. 1 singles between Sham and Lowder, who lost the other singles semifinal match to the eventual champion Malik Mubeen, in the de facto third-place match.
Additionally, the No. 1 doubles in Mason’s match with ARGS will serve as a third-place game after Sham and Goetz fell to Radford’s duo in the semifinals and Lowder and partner Matthew Cody lost in the other semi match.