Tennis duo towers over opposition
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When Michael Swank took his first official visit to the University of Iowa three years ago, Garret Dunn hosted his tour. Both standing over six-feet, seven inches tall, they quickly found that they shared a common bond. Swank joked about the idea of them playing doubles together, towering over the net, and the two shared a laugh.
Nobody's laughing about the idea now.
Utilizing their unique height and style of play, the two have formed a lethal duo at the No. 1 doubles position for the Hawkeye men's tennis team. Both known for their elite serves and tough play on top of the net, Dunn and Swank have proven to be a tough out for any doubles team. What began with a joke has developed into lofty expectations for Iowa's top doubles tandem.
"It can be pretty daunting seeing two guys as tall as us across the net," says Dunn, a senior from Tempe, Ariz. "We can serve big, try to overpower them as much as possible and be a force at the net. It's a different style, but when we rely on those strengths, we feel really confident out there."
Iowa's unlikely duo formed out of curiosity from head coach Steve Houghton and assistant coach Steve Nash, who saw potential in grouping the two together with their size and skill set. They first played together in the fall of 2011, and Houghton and Nash's curiosity was confirmed.
Dunn and Swank had a big spring season in 2012, compiling eight victories at the top-singles position, including three wins over nationally-ranked doubles teams. The two became well-known in the collegiate tennis community for their big serves and earned a national ranking in this year's Intercollegiate Tennis Association preseason rankings. They also earned something else; a phrase describing their play that has stuck with them.
Nash coined the term "Gorilla Tennis" watching Dunn and Swank play doubles together, and the two have come to embrace that role. Stroll into the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex during a match, and you can see "Gorilla Tennis" in action, with world-class serves and huge smash shots at the net from Iowa's twin towers.
"(Nash) coined the term, and we accepted it since it has stuck with us considering our style of play," says Swank, a junior from Lawrence, Kan. "If you've ever used Donkey Kong in Mario Tennis on the Nintendo, you have an idea of what Nash is talking about. When we are playing that style, serving well and making plays on top of the net, teams can get frustrated quickly against us."
Height isn't the only similar attribute the two have, as Dunn and Swank each developed a friendship off the court with their similar attitudes. That friendship has paid dividends on the court, as the two each know where the other is during the match and how they are feeling.
"We know our personalities really well, and that is a good advantage in doubles," says Dunn. "We have been playing together and have been friends since (Swank) got here. If either of us senses something, we can say something to loosen each other up. We mesh together well, and it adds to our chemistry on the court."
After a tough season last year, Houghton was excited about the positive attitude the team carried into this season. Dunn and Swank have been big facilitators of that attitude. Dunn has 76 career victories and was named the winner of the team's Tyler Cleveland Most Valuable Player award last season. His mentality off the court has been just as important, as he was named the team's captain. Swank is looking to follow suit, breaking through in singles and doubles this season and displaying a needed positive attitude.
"Garret is the captain of the team and is our emotional leader," says Swank. "I'd like to think of myself as the Robin to his Batman. I do my best to follow the tone that he sets. It's important to keep a positive attitude and stay in the right mindset, or the season will grind on you."
The Hawkeyes are 2-1 this season, while Dunn and Swank are 2-0 in doubles play. Dunn, making his last run in collegiate tennis, is looking to put the Hawkeyes back in their rightful spot before he leaves.
"I want to make the most of what I have left, and get us back to where we should be team-wise in the Big Ten," says Dunn. "We want to take that next step, and I think by the time conference play comes around, we'll be ready for that. We want to get the program back to being one of the best in the league."