COVID-19 halts Iowa men’s tennis’ successful season

All signs pointed to the Iowa men’s tennis team earning a bid in the NCAA tournament at the end of the spring, but then the season ended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s Will Davies hits a volley during a men’s tennis match between Iowa and Western Michigan at the HTRC on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. The Hawkeyes defeated the Broncos, 4-3.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter


Iowa’s men’s tennis team was scheduled to face off against the rest of the Big Ten this Thursday through Sunday at the conference championships in Bloomington, Indiana.

Most likely, the Hawkeyes would have held a high seed heading into tournament play after they began the season 12-2 — the best start in program history.

But like every other spring sport at Iowa and across the nation, the team’s season was brought to an abrupt end in mid-March due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

After defeating 16th-ranked Cornell in a thrilling 4-3 upset March 8 at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center, Iowa was the 20th best team in the country, according to the latest rankings by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. It marked the first time an Iowa team had ever cracked the top 20 nationally.

Just four days after junior Will Davies — one of the six international students on the eight-man roster — clinched the final point to complete the upset, the NCAA announced that all future tournaments and sporting events would be canceled for the remainder of the spring season.

“We experienced such a high having beaten Cornell, especially in the way we did beat them,” Davies said. “Obviously, me clinching to win 4-3 was one of my best collegiate tennis wins. Then to find out a couple of days later that the season had been canceled, and realistically I was looking at going home for the rest of the semester in the UK. You go from such a high to then such, such a big low.”

In the UK — where four players are from — a police-enforced national lockdown is in effect. This differs from the state-by-state stay-at-home orders in the United States.

“We’re only allowed to go outside for essentials, like grocery shopping basically,” Davies said. “And then, you’re only allowed to exercise once per day. I walk through the park that’s near my house, and there are police, which are patrolling. You’re not allowed to stop; you’ve got to keep continually exercising if you’re walking or something. The streets are really quiet; there’s nothing really much going on. So, I mean, in that respect, it’s quite nice and peaceful, but at the same time, we all wish we were doing things such as playing tennis.”

Back when playing tennis was within the guidelines of society, Davies and the team were putting together an impressive start to the season.

After starting the spring season with a loss to Texas Tech, the Hawkeyes had won 12 of their last 13 matches and five in a row.

Individually, Davies was excelling in both singles and doubles.

The thrilling singles win over Lev Kazakov of Louisville in what turned out to be Iowa’s last match of the season cemented his final singles record at 13-1. He also teamed up with fellow countryman Oliver Okonkwo for a 7-4 doubles record. The pair were ranked 12th best in the country at season’s end.

By all accounts, there was something special happening in the Iowa men’s tennis program this year. With the NCAA’s announcement on March 30 to allow schools to provide spring-sport student athletes an additional season of competition and an extended eligibility period, next year can’t come soon enough.

“I’m glad that the guys are going to get, the seniors like Jason [Kerst] and Kareem [Allaf], are going to get an extra year to come back finish this off,” head coach Ross Wilson said. “Also the younger guys to be able to continue the success of the program and to help sustain it for years to come.”

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