Men’s tennis opens Big Ten play with split

BY SETH ROBERTS | MARCH 30, 2010 7:30 AM

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Nobody ever said Big Ten play would be easy.

One day after the No. 66 Iowa men’s tennis team thrashed unranked Michigan State, 5-2, to open the conference season, it received a 6-1 beating at the hands of No. 28 Michigan on Sunday.

“Anytime you get a split on a tough road trip, you’ve done well,” Iowa head coach Steve Houghton said. “Our ambition was to win both meets, though.”

The Hawkeyes (9-4, 1-1 Big Ten) struggled from the beginning against Michigan (7-7, 3-0). The Wolverines, led by their two nationally ranked doubles teams, took the opening point in decisive fashion.

Michigan’s Jason Jung and Evan King — the country’s No. 52 doubles team — defeated Iowa’s Will Vasos and Tommy McGeorge, 8-2, in the No. 1 position. No. 46 George Navas and Mike Sroczynski beat Marc Bruche and Tom Mroziewicz, 8-4, at No. 2.

“They’re obviously two really strong doubles teams,” Houghton said. “They deserve their rankings.”

Iowa had a better showing in singles play, despite dropping five of the six matches. Hawkeye senior Reinoud Haal battled Sroczynski in the No. 3 slot before falling in a third-set tiebreaker (7-6 [2], 3-6, 1-0 [10-12]). Junior Nikita Zotov controlled much of his match against No. 42 Jung, who came from behind to notch a 6-4, 6-4 victory for the Wolverines in the No. 2 position.

The Hawkeyes’ only point came from junior Austen Kauss, who defeated Chris Cha in a third-set tiebreaker (4-6, 6-2, 1-0 [10-8]). The victory was Kauss’ fifth in a row, and Houghton said he has a “lot of confidence” that his No. 6 singles player will continue to perform well.

Kauss said he wants to keep playing aggressively and building his confidence.

“I’m not really thinking about [the streak] while I’m competing,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus on my consistency, not getting distracted, and executing.”

Iowa’s loss in Ann Arbor, Mich., came a day after the Hawkeyes dismantled Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., to begin the Big Ten season. Iowa opened the meet with a sweep in the doubles matches against the Spartans (11-7, 0-3).

Zotov and freshman Garret Dunn meshed well in their first pairing of the season, defeating Michigan State’s Denis Bogatov and Clark Richardson in the No. 3 position, 8-5. The Iowa duo handed Bogatov and Richardson their second loss in 13 matches, and Dunn said the victory was the perfect way to begin his Big Ten career.

“I was really excited going in,” Dunn said. “[Michigan State is] one of our close rivals, so we wanted to compete as well as we could. We all play the same way, so Nikita, and I were just trying to be as aggressive as possible.”

The Hawkeyes continued their strong play in singles, winning four matches. Vasos won his third-consecutive match, besting Jason Norville (6-3, 0-6, 6-4) at No. 4, and sophomore Marc Bruche claimed his third victory in four tries with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Austin Brooks in the No. 1 slot.

Despite the mixed results in doubles play over the weekend, Houghton said he was happy with the way his players performed in an area he has called the team’s weak point.

“I feel as if we took some steps forward,” he said. “We hadn’t won the doubles point against Michigan State in several years, and Michigan is obviously very good. We didn’t play poorly [against Michigan], we just didn’t play quite well enough to win.”

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