Brian Vahaly (COM ’01) is the highest-ranking professional tennis player ever to graduate from the University of Virginia. The business management and finance double major graduated in possession of several honors: ACC Player of the Year (twice), U.Va. All-American (three times), and the NCAA number one men’s doubles ranking. As a pro, Vahaly soared to a career high ranking of 64 in the world, defeating French Open men’s champions Juan Carlos Ferraro and Michael Chang along the way.
Upon retiring from his playing career in 2007, Vahaly settled back in his hometown of Atlanta to enter the investment/finance world, while continuing to work with the youth foundation he started, the Brian Vahaly Brighter Future Foundation, which provides tennis and academic opportunities to low-income youth throughout Georgia. The mission of the Foundation is "to use tennis as a means to raise funds in support of activities that encourage young people to find the balance in their lives between tennis, scholarship, community service and faith."
StreakingtheLawn.com caught up with Vahaly to talk about life at U.Va., on the tour and beyond.
STL: You’ve been retired from professional tennis for a couple of years now: do you still play tennis?
BV: I do still play tennis locally, just with some friends in the area. My competitive drive is mostly behind me so it’s just nice to get out on the court, help a few friends learn the game, and also play some with my family. The ultra-competitive days of playing professional tennis are long behind me though.
STL: What is your favorite memory of U.Va.?
BV: I’m not sure if I could say I have one favorite moment of U.Va. So much of it happened off-court, but personally it was many small memories playing home matches at U.Va. It was great to have fraternity brothers, family, and friends out to the matches and supporting me...I had a great record when I was playing in Charlottesville. My single best match at Virginia was likely beating James Blake when he was ranked #1 in the NCAA rankings.
STL: What about your best memory of playing on tour?
BV: On tour, my best memory was playing Andre Agassi at the Australian Open on center court on ESPN. That was early on in my career and a huge opportunity with a tremendous amount of pressure on the line. Obviously playing Davis Cup and having three top-10 wins were huge moments as well...to be honest, it’s difficult to say one moment sticks out. It was a great few years.
STL: In 2003, you were the only men’s tennis player in the top-100 in the world with a college degree. Can you talk about that?
BV: Currently, most players feel that in order to be a successful tennis player, you have to be home-schooled and leave college and your education behind you. My education was very important to my family, and I knew I wanted to get my degree. I also really enjoyed my time at Virginia and had no desire to leave a day early. I will admit it was much more difficult getting opportunities as a college graduate, but I’m very proud of myself for how hard I fought and all the matches I played in order to get into the top-100 in the world.
STL: Also in 2003, People magazine named you one of the most eligible bachelors: did you buy up all the copies to burn them? Or buy them up to give away to friends?
BV: I was playing in the second round of Wimbledon when People magazine came out with its issue. I honestly had no idea how big of a deal it would become. My parents got a few issues so I saw them when I got home...but for the most part, I just got hell from all the guys on tour. I likely deserved it.
STL: You have left an impressive legacy at U.Va. tennis: the men’s team are the current ACC champions, undefeated last season, and several alumni are currently trying out the pro tour. How does that make you feel?
BV: I’m extremely proud to see what U.Va. has been able to accomplish in the last several years on the tennis court. When my recruiting class decided to attend back in 1997, I believe the school was ranked in the 50s...but I still believed that Charlottesville had everything we needed to be an NCAA champion. I take great pride in being affiliated with the program and am glad I could even just bring some attention to the great institution.
STL: Can you talk about the Foundation you started?
BV: I started my foundation back in 2003 with the help of Andy Roddick. We work in YMCAs across the state of Georgia providing computers, tutoring, and tennis lessons to the less fortunate. I always felt my best platform was the importance of both sports and education in your personal development, and I’m pleased that we can give so many opportunities to those kids. We’ve slowly been able to see them go to college and form into great young men and women.
STL: Besides tennis, what other sports do you enjoy/play?
BV: Outside of tennis, I don’t play many other sports. I’m currently too busy with my next job and try to hit the gym every morning before I get to the office...those days of free time and being outside seem to be a thing of the past!
Brian Vahaly moved back to Atlanta to work in financial services. You can read the full article from People magazine’s 25 Hottest Bachelors piece here.
Andrew Feldman works for the United States Tennis Association and is a COL ’92 alumnus of The University.