Making It To The Big Time

Nov. 14, 2005

IOWA CITY, IA – After graduating from the University of Iowa in 2001, Tyler Cleveland hung up his tennis racket and became a stock trader. However, after four years away from the game that he dominated in college, Cleveland now finds himself breaking into the Professional Tennis Circuit.

Cleveland is one of two Hawkeyes competing in the futures tournaments, hoping to make it to a Grand Slam event. Stuart Waters, who was Cleveland’s doubles partner in 2001, is also making a living on the court.

“I’m really proud of both these guys. Not only are they outstanding players who have had a lot of success, but they’re really classy guys and they represent us well when they play pro,” said men’s Head Tennis Coach, Steve Houghton.

Cleveland played for Iowa from 1998-2001, where he received the Big Ten Player of the Year award in 2000 and 2001. He was the first person to accomplish that. With a record of 63-16, he ranks third on the all-time Iowa win list. He ranks number one in all-time winning percentage, with a .797 mark.

After settling down to start a career, Cleveland found his way back to tennis.

“I was practicing with some coaches in Chicago. I was teaching kids and the coaches there thought I was playing well enough to play pro. I never really gave it a shot so now was the time,” he said.

After achieving such success in college, Cleveland found himself starting over again and dealing with new problems.

“It was pretty tough. It took a few months to get used to it. I wasn’t playing very well at first. I was getting nervous in the matches, which is something I’d never had a problem with. I struggled in the first four tournaments but now the nervousness has gone away,” he said.

After a shaky beginning, Cleveland has found his swing, jumping over 700 places from where he began. He currently ranks 612 out of nearly 1,500 players.

Former Hawkeye Stuart Waters

Waters emerged as a top player his junior year, when he took over the No. 1 spot that had been Cleveland’s. In his senior year, Waters posted a 14-7 record and earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors once.

Since joining the pro circuit, Waters has continued to improve, winning both money and futures tournaments and defeating former top NCAA players. Waters defeated Cleveland when they faced each other in the First Community Band Tennis Classic in September 2004.

“He’s always incredibly difficult to play because he’s left handed, and he plays with a lot of top spin,” said Cleveland of his former doubles partner.

Just making it this far is an accomplishment in itself. Surviving the professional tennis player’s life is just one of the many challenges Cleveland and Waters face.

“You’re competing with a lot of people. All those who get into it are those who have had a lot of success. A lot of tournaments they play are not in glamorous settings. It’s a dog eat dog, nomadic life. Those who survive are those who have strong constitutions themselves. Both those guys do. They do what it takes,” said Houghton.

Experiencing the extreme highs and lows of the game is what makes it challenging for Cleveland.

“The best part is I get to play tennis for a living. That’s cool. The worst part is the fact that most likely you are going to lose every weekend because you aren’t winning every weekend at this level,” he said.

The success Cleveland and Waters are experiencing is also benefiting tennis players here at Iowa.

“It says a lot about our program that they’re doing this. A lot of guys that we recruit now have pro dreams. They’re success helps us. It shows guys in Iowa can do this,” said Houghton.

Houghton knows that they have what it takes to make it to the upper echelon, which he considers to be the top 200-300 players.

“These are two really classy guys, great reps of our program, not only great for themselves but for our program,” he said.

By Jennifer Bissell, Iowa Sports Information