When Florida men’s tennis coach Bryan Shelton began searching for players to bring into his program last offseason, he and his coaching staff were hoping to recruit athletes that not only had talent, but also possessed a competitive spirit.
Shelton couldn’t have picked two players more competitive than Alfredo Perez and McClain Kessler.
Perez and Kessler, Florida’s only two freshmen, have established a dominant presence on the court through the first seven matches of 2016.
"Both of those guys fit the bill," Shelton said.
"It doesn’t take long to watch either one of them play and see how competitive they are on the court, because they wear their emotions a little bit on their sleeve."
Perez, the former No. 2-ranked prospect in the state of Florida, and Kessler, the former No. 1-ranked prospect in the state of Georgia, are off to impressive starts in their first season with the Gators.
In dual-match play, Perez is 4-1 in singles and 2-0 in doubles this season, while Kessler is 3-2 in singles and 1-0 in doubles.
Both players have been regulars in the singles lineup this year, playing six times in seven matches.
"I think I’ve played pretty well overall," Perez said.
"I’ve obviously had some tough matches where I didn’t play as good as I wanted to, but still overall I’ve played well."
A native of Havana, Cuba, who played high school tennis in Coral Gables, Perez credits his conditioning for his performance this season.
"The one biggest improvement is my physical strength and shape," Perez said.
"I think I’ve improved on that a lot, and I believe I can go three hours (against an opponent) and just grind it out, and they’re not gonna beat me just because they’re in better shape than me."
As for Kessler, the 19-year-old was a UF fan growing up in his hometown of Calhoun, Georgia, and had wanted to be a Gator all his life.
His passion for the school has been evident — this season, the 19-year-old frequently shouts "Let’s go Gators" during home matches.
For Shelton, the emotion Kessler displays is a positive.
But UF’s coach said the freshman needs to manage his emotions better moving forward, starting with Florida’s home match against Florida State on Saturday at 1 p.m.
"McClain is excitable, and he’s learning to focus his energy a little bit better," Shelton said.
"The best competitors are the ones that can put the mind and the thought with the action, and so we’re kinda teaching him to use his brain a little bit more out there on the court instead of just using his physical attributes."
Alfredo Perez returns a ball during Florida's 6-1 win over Troy on Jan. 17, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.