Iowa men's tennis players have chance to upstage big names


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Even before Big Ten play begins in January, certain Iowa men’s tennis players may get a chance to test their abilities against some of the best players in college tennis.

Matt Hagan was the first Hawkeye this fall to square off with a ranked player at the Princeton Invitational on Sept. 19, as he took on Princeton’s Zach McCourt. Depending on a few factors, including the way seeds come out, the senior may get a chance to redeem himself at the regionals beginning Thursday.

“I started off the first set shaky,” Hagan said. “I think I put a little to much pressure on myself ahead of the match.”

Hagan rebounded from a 6-1 loss in the first set but still fell short in the second set, dropping a 6-4 contest against the No. 71 player in the country, according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.

“I need to make sure I focus on my serve to take pressure off the rest of my game,” Hagan said. “I think it’s important to loosen up and relax, too.”

The Big Ten has 12 players ranked in the top 125, with as many as three at Illinois and Ohio State. Iowa has none but will have plenty of chances to topple some of the best competition in the country.

As three of the four players with dual play experience on the team, seniors Hagan and Andres Estenssoro as well as junior Dominic Patrick may be thrust into some big-time matches.

“Some of the matchups may look easier on paper, but I think you need to go into everyone with the same mentality,” Patrick said. “We’re going to be in some dogfights. We need to treat every match and every point like it’s our last one.”

The added pressure comes mentally as much as it does physically when challenged by a ranked opponent, making the ranking more than just a number that comes before a player’s name.

“If you don’t feel nervous going into a match, you’re probably in the wrong sport,” Estenssoro said. “Good players just know how to handle the nerves. That’s the difference.”

With three freshmen on the squad getting some college experience in the fall, the possibility remains they will get a shot at top players as well.

“It would be an amazing opportunity for me,” freshman Jake Jacoby said. “It may not happen this year, but mentally, I’m ready for the challenge.”

Ranked players may get placed in a higher echelon of talent, but with that placement come targets on their backs. For players such as Hagan, these are the opportunities that make the game special.

“If you get a win against a ranked player, it’s obviously a big deal,” he said. “Those are the guys you need to beat to put yourself in a position to get ranked.”

Regardless of the caliber of opponent, Hagan and Company want to treat every match the same — as if their season depends on it.

“I haven’t looked at a player with a number next to his name differently than a player without one,” Hagan said. “I feel like if I can think the same and not put added pressure on myself, I’ll be fine.”

Follow @CharlsGreen on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa men’s tennis team.

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