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Iowa tennis towers over competition

BY RYAN MURPHY | SEPTEMBER 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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Three members of the Iowa men's tennis team tower over their competition.

Literally.

The Iowa roster contains three of the conference's tallest players — 6-6 freshman Matt Hagan, 6-6 sophomore Michael Swank, and 6-8 junior Garret Dunn, the conference's tallest player. The only other Big Ten player listed at 6-6 or taller is Ohio State sophomore Peter Kobelt, who is listed at 6-7.
Iowa head men's tennis coach Steve Houghton said recruiting taller players wasn't a planned strategy, but he said it's becoming a trend in men's tennis.

"[Recruiting bigger players] was just by happenstance," he said. "But in college and pro tennis, it's kind of heading in that direction, and you're seeing that more often now."

Of the nine Big Ten teams that report the height of their players, only Illinois checks in at under an average of 6-0 (5-11.1). The conference's tallest team, Ohio State, records an average height of 6-2.5. The Hawkeyes record an average height of 6-0.3.

The trend toward tall players is especially evident in the professional game, Houghton said. The longtime Iowa coach pointed out professional tennis player John Isner as an example. The 6-9 American, currently ranked 18th in the world, is best known for playing the longest match in tennis history in 2010.

Additionally, six of the world's top 20 players, including world No. 6 Robin Soderling, are 6-4 or taller.

One of the Hawkeyes' "giants," Hagan, said his height helps him in both singles and doubles competition — especially in the serve, where his size helps him get more power behind the ball.

"It helps on the serve, big time," he said. "It also helps you cover the net when you are playing doubles, but the main advantage is on the serve."

The serve might be a strength, but senior Will Vasos, who is 5-10, said the challenge when playing a taller player is to wear him down throughout the match.

"They have humongous serves, so you have to neutralize the serve and grind them down during the point," Vasos said.

Houghton said that while men's tennis is trending toward bigger players, shorter players are still able to compete and win, and the Hawkeyes are a prime example.

The Hawkeyes return five players from last year's final starting lineup, and all of them except Dunn stand under 6-0. Iowa's top two players are two of its shorter members: The 5-10 Vasos and 5-9 senior Marc Bruche.

The Hawkeye head coach said that while the taller players use their power to defeat opponents, shorter players use speed to claim victory.

"You have to evolve, and that is the trend that is going on," Houghton said. "But the smaller players are still able to be successful; they just have to be quick."


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