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Men’s tennis faces home test

BY SETH ROBERTS | APRIL 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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Home is where the heart — and a .800 winning percentage — is.

One week after dropping two meets on the road, the No. 72 Iowa men’s tennis team (10-7, 2-4) returns to Iowa City to face No. 32 Wisconsin (14-6, 4-2) and No. 53 Northwestern (9-10, 1-5) at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex this weekend.

The Hawkeyes own a 4-1 home record this year, compared with a 3-6 mark on the road. Although another loss will likely knock the team out of the national rankings, Iowa head coach Steve Houghton said playing at home will protect his players.

“Playing three of our last four meets at home will help a lot,” Houghton said. “We’ve played a lot more road matches this year than we normally do, and it takes its toll. It’s not the weekend trips that make things difficult, but we were hardly home at all in February and March. There’s a cumulative effect.”

The 29th-year coach said the goal for the rest of the season is to secure a top-five finish in conference, which would eliminate the need for the Hawkeyes to play a first-round meet in the Big Ten Tournament.

While the top three spots appear to have been secured by Ohio State, Illinois, and Michigan, Houghton said he is still optimistic his team — currently eighth in the conference — can earn a strong seeding.

“It’s possible,” he said. “We’ve already played the three best teams in the conference. It’ll require good play from everyone, but we have a shot.”

Sophomore Marc Bruche will face perhaps the stiffest test for the Hawkeyes this weekend. He is scheduled to play two nationally ranked players in No. 1 singles.

Wisconsin senior Moritz Baumann is ranked No. 17 in the country, and Bruche said he has respected the Badger since they played on the German junior circuit together.

“He’s one year older, so he didn’t ever play in my class,” Bruche said. “I saw him play in tournaments, and he’s obviously one of the best players in the country. I have nothing to lose, so I’m just going to have fun. I might surprise him.”

Bruche will also play Northwestern’s Joshua Graves, a sophomore ranked No. 82 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. While Bruche has not had prior exposure to Graves, he siad that he is not feeling excessive pressure.

“I’ve played a lot of good players this year,” said Bruche, who is 0-2 against ranked opponents, 8-9 overall. “I’ve done pretty well so far, even though I haven’t won them all. I’m not afraid.”

Iowa junior Nikita Zotov and the doubles pairing of Will Vasos and Tommy McGeorge also face difficult tasks against the Badgers. Zotov will play Wisconsin junior Marek Michalicka, the No. 22-ranked singles player, in the No. 2 slot.

Michalicka also pairs with Baumann to form the 12th-ranked doubles team. But Vasos said he and partner McGeorge are prepared for the challenge.

“We’re going into it with the same mindset that we’ve had in all our other matches,” the sophomore said. “We have to focus, and I think we can hang with them if we execute. It’ll be a challenge, but we’re not intimidated.”

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