April 24, 2013
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 6, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2012-13 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Jonas Dierckx's path to the University of Iowa men's tennis team began through the World Wide Web.
UI head coach Steve Houghton saw online videos of Dierckx during the recruiting process, talked to him on the phone from his home in Lommel, Belgium, and communicated via email, but he never saw him play in person. His eyes were compliments of a tennis operations guy overseas.
"I was convinced from him that Jonas was good, and he would be a good Big Ten player," said Houghton. "That in combination with video and his results all combined that this was a good risk to take after not having seen him play a lot."
Dierckx hadn't considered the prospects of playing collegiate tennis in the United States before entertaining Houghton's offer. When the process progressed, he went to former Hawkeye Bart van Monsjou, a Dutchman, for more information.
"Bart is a good friend of my coach, so that was a coincidence," said Dierckx. "I got in touch with him and he told me about it and how great the campus, coaches, team and facilities were. Coach (Houghton) told me a lot about Iowa, and I had a good view of it, but it's always different from a student perspective."
Dierckx's first season as a Hawkeye was a complete adjustment. Being thousands of miles from his family, Dierckx was home sick and working through a language barrier, while trying to adjust to collegiate tennis.
All the obstacles carried over to his performance, as he went 5-12 in singles competition as a freshman.
"That first year is a tough one for anybody, and you can double that for someone coming from overseas," said Houghton. "Getting used to the new environment, the school, and tennis combination and his native language being different than English, all those things add up to a difficult freshman year."
Through the struggles, Houghton saw signs of Dierckx's potential.
"We saw right away that this guy had all the tools to be a good player," said Houghton. "Toward the end of that year, he improved quite a bit and got some confidence in playing college matches."
After returning to Belgium for the summer, Dierckx played in tournament after tournament to gain experience. When he returned to Iowa City in the fall of 2011, Houghton saw an improved player.
"To his credit, he has always been somebody that when he goes home over the summer, he plays a lot," said Houghton. "He doesn't just go through the motions, but plays in a lot of hard tournaments. The summer activities have paid off for him because he has come back stronger every year. Many times kids maintain their games over the summer, but he actually makes big improvements."
Dierckx says nerves played a factor in his first-season struggles as a Hawkeye because he never was completely comfortable on the court. The summer of constant playing helped him work through that issue.
"I think I lost my nerves," he said. "It happened over summer break when I was playing in a lot of tournaments. I tried to keep that going when I came back to Iowa in the fall, and I was confident in my game. That's how I started getting better."
Dierckx saw immediate improvement in his second fall in Iowa City. He reached the semifinals at the Big Ten Indoor Championships, winning four straight matches, including a straight-set victory over top-seeded Josh MacTaggart of Indiana. He also won the Flight B doubles draw at the Big Ten Indoors with Matt Hagan and posted two singles wins at the ITA Central Region Championships, and one singles win at the ITA All-American.
After winning 15 singles and 13 doubles matches as a sophomore, en route to earning the team's Most Improved Player honor, Dierckx was counted on to continue elevating his game as a junior, and he has delivered.
During the fall season, Dierckx won the consolation championships at the Penn Invitational and the Big Ten Indoor Championships. He went 9-4 to lead the team. This spring, Dierckx has 10 victories at the No. 1 and No. 2 positions in singles and is 9-3 at the No. 2 line in doubles with Hagan.
Houghton says Dierckx is comfortable being at the top of the Hawkeye lineup.
"Some guys get psyched out playing up higher knowing they'll be playing better, more experienced players," said Houghton. "He has gotten comfortable being our No. 1 guy. You need to get a win or two at that position to believe, `Yeah, I can compete at this level,' and that has happened.
"His progression has been a natural one, where it has moved right into what he needs to do next and as a result, he has been successful doing it without being overly worried about who he is playing or what number he's playing."
Dierckx says playing at a higher position is different mainly because he has to work harder to win a routine point.
"Guys at a higher position always make a few more balls than lower in the lineup," he said. "You have to be ready to play longer points and longer matches. I think I have done that pretty well."
With the progress Dierckx has made from year one to year three, Houghton sees All-Big Ten honors and NCAA play in Dierckx's future.
"He is very capable of being an All-Big Ten-type guy and has a legitimate chance to make it to NCAAs," he said. "He can be that good of player if he sets his mind to it and is determined to do it. I don't worry about those things with him. The sky is the limit as to what he can do next year, and I wouldn't be surprised of anything."
After taking a flier on Iowa three years ago, Dierckx says he would encourage other international players to do the same.
"The first year was tough, but after that, the past two years have flown by," he said. "I know that next year I am going to say that this has gone too fast. I would do it over again if I had the chance."
Dierckx and the Hawkeyes face Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio.