The doubles specialist

BY JODAN BUCHER | MARCH 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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Michael Swank was just 5 years old when he picked up his first tennis racket and took to the courts. The 6-6 senior’s explosive serve, combined with his towering frame, intimidating presence at the net, and prominent leadership qualities help make up Iowa’s No. 1 doubles foundation.

Come singles play, though, the doubles specialist drops to No. 6 in Iowa’s rotation — the bottom of the Hawkeyes lineup.

Bystanders to the sport might question the reason behind the disparity and assume the best singles players should join forces to make the best doubles team, but it ultimately comes down to the different skills needed to be effective in either.

Size is a major component in making an effective doubles duo with less area to be covered per player in doubles play despite an expanded playing surface. In singles, however, a player is responsible for all 1,053 feet.

“His game is more designed for doubles,” said Swank’s doubles partner, senior Brian Alden.

“He is more explosive and better at net. His serve is more effective than his ground-strokes in singles.”

While both Alden and Swank tower in size, both measuring in a 6-6 tall, Iowa’s top two singles players, Jonas Dierckx and Juan Estenssoro are 5-10 and 5-8, something Swank acknowledges provides an advantage in singles competition that he and Alden do not have.

“I’m not really crazy talented with ball feel. You watch [them], and they have really great hands,” Swank said. “I have to use my size and serve to my advantage, which really correlates well in doubles, whereas in singles it doesn’t have as big of an impact, because there is so many other facets to the game that you have to be good at.”

It’s not just Swank’s athleticism that makes him an ideal fit to take on the Big Ten’s best in doubles competition. Over the cheers of the crowd between points, one can always hear Swank’s voice. He never shies away from giving his opponents a well-deserved compliment after a successful shot.

“The biggest thing that makes him a better doubles player is that he is a team player,” assistant coach Ross Wilson said. “He always engages with his partner. He also creates energy and momentum and plays with enthusiasm, which is good for the team.”

“He’s very vocal and works hard,” Alden said. “He’s a team guy and is always there for his teammates on and off the court.”

Teamwork is undoubtedly a key component to any successful doubles team, as well as players’ compatibility.

“Swank is a ‘fire-starter,’ ” Wilson said. “Alden has some fire, but he needs someone to bring it out of him in the right way, so that really worked out personality-wise. Their games also complement each other well.”

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