Iowa men's tennis drops heartbreaker

BY TOM CLOS | FEBRUARY 06, 2012 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men's tennis team was hoping home-court advantage would help solve some of its recent struggles in singles play entering last weekend.

But as it turns out, it may have created some new ones.

Iowa was overmatched from the start in a decisive 6-1 rout by Arkansas on Feb. 3 and followed that with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to DePaul on Sunday.

The struggles in singles continued against the Razorbacks — the Hawkeyes went a combined 1-5 en route to the lopsided loss.

Things seemed to be going differently against the Blue Demons; the Hawkeyes, for the first time this season, clicked on all cylinders, sweeping all three doubles matches and taking two of the first three in singles. Iowa even held one-set leads in two of the final three matches.

Then the bottom fell out.

Freshman Matt Hagan and senior Tom Mroziewicz both dropped their final two sets, sending the Hawkeyes and Blue Demons into a 3-3 tie. Mroziewicz took the first set, then went on to win only one game in the final two to drop the match, (6-4, 1-6, 0-6).

Senior Will Vasos, representing the Hawkeyes' last chance, fought back to tie his match at one set a piece. But he was dominated in the final set, 6-2, to drop the singles point and send Iowa to a devastating 1-4 start to the season.

"We had some chances early on, having won first sets, to jump on top early in the second set," head coach Steve Houghton said. "[We] didn't do it, then all of a sudden we're in trouble."

The lack of production from seniors Mroziewicz and Vasos is cause for concern for Iowa, especially because they were supposed to provide the veteran experience an otherwise young team lacked.

"Things just aren't falling our way so far," Vasos said. "Hopefully, we can turn it around."

Even Iowa's most consistent singles player entering the weekend, sophomore Jonas Dierckx, had a forgettable two days. He was forced to retire during his Feb. 3 singles match with a back injury and was whipped in straight sets (6-0, 6-2) on Sunday.

"He got steamrolled," Houghton said. "His game is a finely tuned game, and if you're not quite as sharp as usual, it's potentially trouble."

One of the few bright spots on the weekend for the Hawkeyes was Garret Dunn. The 6-8 junior from Arizona went 3-1 overall, including a 2-0 record in singles matches.

"I've been working on a different game plan with coaches in which I can be more aggressive and just attack more," he said. "It better suits my style of play, my abilities — and being able to do that gave me more confidence and allowed me to play better."

Sophomore Chase Tomlins also posted an impressive win in his first singles match of the season, winning 7-5, 6-1.

The Hawkeyes struggled In doubles play against Arkansas, dropping two of three matches on Feb. 3, but responded Sunday by taking all three from the Blue Demons.

"The doubles were real good," Houghton said. "[Dierckx and Hagan] came out and won; I was really pleased with that."

Iowa improved to 8-5 overall in doubles play, so the focus shifts again to the singles game and whether or not the team can carry these few strong performances moving forward.

The Hawkeyes have 12 days off until their next meet, on Feb. 18. at Illinois State.

"We have two weeks now where we can really just hit the practice court and focus on the things we have to do and get better," Dunn said. "We really can't do anything now except keep working hard."

Still, the Hawkeyes have to wonder how different this season might look if it had been able to successfully close out Sunday's meet.

"All we had to do is win one of those third sets, and we win the match," Houghton said. "It's devastating."

Follow DI men's tennis reporter Tom Clos on Twitter.

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