Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Boredom during the lazy days of summer led 4-year-old Will Davies and his older sister to a multi-sport camp near their home in Norwich, England. Once enrolled, they stayed busy playing golf, squash, badminton, field hockey, and tennis.
A perceptive coach noticed something special when Will held a tennis racquet in his hand.
“He said I had a good eye for the ball and should play one lesson a week,” Davies recalls. “I did that and it gradually got busier and busier and I started playing a lot more.”
Davies, a freshman for the University of Iowa men’s tennis team, has evolved into one of the up-and-coming stars in the Big Ten Conference. As of April 1, he owns a record of 14-9 in singles and 15-5 in doubles. Davies and freshman doubles partner Piotr Smietana are ranked No. 40 in the country.
“As a team, we want to make the NCAA finals and then on top of that, there are singles events and doubles events,” Davies said. “Piotr and I are hoping to build on our ranking, trying to get higher and hopefully we can reach the NCAA doubles finals after the team events.”
Davies has settled in at No. 6 singles and No. 2 doubles for the Hawkeyes (9-10), who play Northwestern at noon Sunday. Iowa has two other matches that day, taking on South Dakota State twice, beginning at 3:30.
“He is a ball of fire,” Iowa head coach Ross Wilson said of Davies. “He goes out there and has a ton of energy on the court. He is very vocal and gets his teammates involved. He is also a great competitor.”
Networking by Wilson is how he received a tip about Davies, who was being assisted in the college recruitment by one of Wilson’s former players at Ohio Dominican University. Wilson watched video on Davies, was overwhelmed with his high school transcripts, and touched base through phone calls.
Impressed, Wilson packed his bags — and passport — and flew to Nottingham, England, to get an in-person view of the recruit. Unfortunately, Davies experienced a tweak in his groin and pulled out of the tournament. Still, Wilson enjoyed getting better acquainted with Davies and a couple weeks later, he flew to Portugal to watch him again.
“I liked the way he competed and I liked his game style,” Wilson said. “He got to the finals in doubles and won a couple rounds in the main draw singles.”
The overseas trips were part of a summer-long recruiting process. Davies took an official visit to the University of Iowa in August and committed shortly after. It was a package deal; the Hawkeyes also landed Joe Tyler, who played doubles with Davies in England.
“It has been pretty easy to settle in,” Davies said. “The people are nice as well, so that makes a bit easier to get to know the area.
“I didn’t realize how big the recruitment process was. Coach Wilson did a great job getting both myself and Joe here. I was impressed with the dedication he showed to get us both.”
Davies and Tyler decided to attend the same university and during their search, the University of Iowa stood out.
“Education-wise, I could find a major that I wanted to do in finance,” Davies said. “The people, facilities, they have everything here.”
Davies has represented Great Britain five times in U14 and U16 international events. He was national U12 British Clay Court champion on the junior circuit and runner-up in singles and doubles at the British National U14 Championships. Davies and Tyler have played doubles tournaments in Moldova, Finland, Croatia, Macedonia, Quatar, and Sweden.
Highlights from Davies’ junior career include playing a warm-up event to Wimbledon at the National Tennis Centre. So far at Iowa, he relishes a clinch against No. 14 Dartmouth by senior Josh Silverstein on Feb. 24 in Hanover, New Hampshire, and the Hawkeyes’ victory over No. 40 Oregon on March 4 in Iowa City.
“That was my biggest highlight,” said Davies, who sealed the win against Oregon with a 6-3, 7-5 decision over Riki Oshima. “It was a big win for the team.”
Since the month of February, Davies has won 10-of-12 singles matches (with eight straight wins from Feb. 11 to March 18); Davies and Smietana won 11 straight doubles matches from Jan. 29 to March 18.
“It is impressive to have two freshmen ranked in the top 40 in the country in doubles,” Wilson said. “You usually don’t see that in college tennis because it is a bigger learning curve on the doubles court in college.
“Will is a team player, but he has natural doubles skills as well; he likes to come in, has good hands at the net, quick reactions, and he is a good athlete.”
Iowa hits the road for three matches next weekend: at Dayton and Ohio State on Friday and at Penn State on Sunday. Davies welcomes the Big Ten competition as another opportunity to gauge improvement.
“We all have our jobs for the team,” he said. “We want to get the win for ourselves, but as a whole, it is more team-focused. You take each match as it comes, so step-by-step I will hopefully see improvement in my game.”