Opinion | Iowa men’s tennis isn’t going to get the dream ending it deserves

In just over one year, the Hawkeyes have gone from the nation’s 20th-best team to the brink of extinction.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa’s Nikita Snezhko (left) and Kareem Allaf (middle) listen to head coach Ross Wilson (right) during a men’s tennis meet between Iowa and Northwestern on Sunday, April 11 at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 6-1.

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter

With just two of its 2020-21 regular season matches remaining, Iowa men’s tennis can likely sum up this year’s campaign with one word: Heartbreak.

Following their losses to Illinois and Northwestern at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex in Iowa City last weekend, the Hawkeyes extended their losing streak to eight matches.

Head coach Ross Wilson has never suffered this many losses in a row during his time at Iowa. The Hawkeyes haven’t endured a losing streak as brutal as the one they’re currently riding since 2014.

Complicating Iowa’s 4-12 overall record is the weight of expectations.

On March 8, 2020, Iowa men’s tennis picked what might be its best all-time win — defeating then-No. 16 Cornell. The victory propelled Iowa to a program-best No. 20 Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranking.

Shortly after that, on March 12, 2020, the Big Ten canceled all of its spring sporting events because of COVID-19, cutting what might’ve been the best season in Iowa men’s tennis history short.

Then, on Aug. 21, 2020, University of Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta and President Bruce Harreld announced that the UI would be discontinuing four sports at the end of the 2020-21 academic year to help UI Athletics tackle some financial shortcomings brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the sports to be cut was men’s tennis. So, the Hawkeyes entered the 2020-21 season knowing it would be their last, and with all of their 2019-20 lineup returning for 2020-21, the Hawkeyes’ expectations for this season were high.

With the entirety of its 2019-20 lineup back for 2020-21, it seemed like the Hawkeyes were primed for an NCAA Tournament-caliber season.

That has not been the case.

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Throughout this season, players that Iowa has relied upon in previous years have simply underperformed.

Senior Kareem Allaf came into the 2020-21 season with a No. 39 ITA individual ranking and an ITA Central Regional Senior Player of the Year award to his name.

He’s since become Iowa’s all-time leader in combined singles and doubles wins. But he is just 6-7 in singles and 6-10 in doubles this year.

Junior Will Davies has also struggled this season. Prior to Iowa’s match with Northwestern last Sunday, Davies had been riding a five-match losing streak. He’ll likely finish the 2020-21 season with the worst singles win percentage of his career.

Coming into this season, Davies boasted a .666 win percentage on his career.

Standing at 6-foot-4, junior Joe Tyler has a decided size advantage over most of his opponents. Even with his stature, the Englishman has struggled to play loose and let the ball fly, often yelling “just hit the ball” to himself in frustration each match.

Sophomores Oliver Okonkwo and Nikita Snehzhko and senior Jason Kerst all have seen their winning percentages take a dip this spring too.

Snezhko has yet to win a single match this season.

The Hawkeyes will enter the 2021 Big Ten Tournament in desperation. If Iowa doesn’t win the event, it won’t make the NCAA Tournament. And with the Hawkeyes’ recent struggles, it seems like they are not capable of such a feat.

So, rather than going out with a bang like the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, Iowa men’s tennis will likely fade away quietly, clinging to unrealized NCAA Tournament dreams.

This season was supposed to feature a dream ending for Iowa. Wilson’s rebuild of the program was supposed to be fully realized with an NCAA Tournament berth.

Instead, the last chapter of Iowa’s history will be written differently than the Hawkeyes imagined when the 2020-21 season began back in January.