Hawkeye men's tennis hopes to end drought against Bulldogs

BY TOM CLOS | FEBRUARY 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa men's tennis team will hit the road for a midweek clash with No. 62 Drake (9-1) in Des Moines today.

The Hawkeyes carry a 1-6 record into the meet; they have lost their last four in row by a combined score of 20-8.

Singles play is once again the biggest problem facing Iowa, which enters the Drake meet with a 14-27 overall record, including a combined singles record of 2-12 from senior Will Vasos and freshman Matt Hagan.

Head coach Steve Houghton said he feels his team's lack of mental toughness has been a big part of the poor showing.

"The best word I can think of to use right now is 'fragile,' " he said when asked to describe his team last week. "We're just fragile when it comes down to key situations."

Iowa dropped two doubles matches in tiebreakers in its last meet, on Feb. 19 at Western Michigan. Those losses have bothered Houghton ever since, he said.

"We had three match points in No. 1 doubles," Houghton said. "We get any of those, and we win the meet 4-3. It's as simple as that."

Instead, Iowa lost, 5-2.

The team has struggled recently in doubles, dropping the point in each of its last two meets.

"We know we have the talent and the skills and players to win," sophomore Michael Swank said on Feb. 21. "It just comes down to everybody taking care of his job."

The lone on-court success in singles play has come courtesy of junior Garret Dunn, who has won five-straight singles matches. Four of those were in straight sets.

"I've been playing well," Dunn said last week. "It's all about confidence out on the court and playing your game."

The Drake Bulldogs are led by are led by junior Anis Ghorbel. The Tunisian is the reigning Missouri Valley Player of the Week, and he is ranked 73rd in singles.

Houghton said slowing down the Bulldogs and getting back in the win column won't be easy.

"They usually win the Missouri Valley Conference — or are right up there," he said. "It'll be real challenging."

The longtime head coach said Drake is known for having large crowds at its tennis meets, especially when the Hawkeyes come to town.

"They really get a lot of fans when we play over there," Houghton said. "It's a big deal when Iowa comes in."

Dunn said he'll enter today's meet fully prepared for what awaits his team when it hits the court, because he has prior experience in the series.

"I remember my freshman year, they had a lot of people there," Dunn said. "Iowa State doesn't have a team, so it's the closest thing to a big rivalry game."

Houghton's team is in the midst of a four-match losing streak and is facing one of the hottest teams in the nation, but the 31-year Iowa head coach said he still feels his players can get the job done today.

"Sooner or later, our guys will get over the hump." Houghton said.

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