Oliver Crawford walked out of coach Bryan Shelton’s office after the Florida men’s tennis team’s victory over Arkansas on Sunday.
He smiled, joked and laughed with his coach like they were old friends. Not something you frequently see from a freshman.
But those who know him best know he is not a typical first-year college athlete.
“He’s a talker,” Shelton said. “He’s as comfortable with the coaches as he is with his teammates and friends.”
Of course Crawford was smiling on Sunday. He had just won his 10th consecutive singles match, a victory that came just four days after he was named SEC Player of the Week.
His impressive 6-1, 6-0 rout over Arkansas’ Oscar Mesquida symbolized what the team — and the fans — have come to expect from the young player. But this was not always the case.
For Crawford, his first season in Gainesville got off to a bumpy start.
On Feb. 3 against Florida State, Crawford lost decisive matches in both doubles and singles, landing UF its first defeat of the season.
“I told him as soon as it ended... ‘you will have another chance, and you will come through,’” Shelton said.
Almost a month later, on March 2, he received that opportunity against Georgia.
The freshman stunned the Bulldogs’ then-No. 28 Jan Zielinski in three sets to win the singles match and give the Gators their first SEC victory of the season.
Since his match against Georgia, Crawford has won every singles match he has competed in. He also remains undefeated in SEC singles and doubles with a combined record of 14-0.
Shelton attributed Crawford’s success to how coachable he is.
“Our relationship is very honest,” Shelton said. “I’m the first one to tell him when he screws up, and he receives that criticism really well because he wants to get better.”
When Crawford won his match-clinching singles contest against Georgia, Shelton was the first person he hugged. The young freshman knows that he did not achieve his success on his own.
“I had a few losses at the beginning of the year,” Crawford said, “but the coaching staff helped me learn from them and helped me get to the form I’m in now.”
Florida will face No. 1 Wake Forest on March 30. For a team that starts three freshmen in its singles lineup, the Gators are very confident.
UF is on a four-match win streak and is led by its most dominant freshman, who is looking forward to the test.
“(Crawford) relishes these moments to prove himself,” Shelton said. “He’s a competitor, and he is always looking for the next big challenge.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph and contact him at email@example.com.
Correction: March 27, 2018
An earlier version of this article stated Oliver Crawford won SEC Freshman of the Week three consecutive times. He won SEC Freshman of the week twice on March 7 and March 14 and was named SEC Player of the Week on March 21.
Florida coach Bryan Shelton said freshman Oliver Crawford is fitting in quickly with his new team. “He’s as comfortable with the coaches as he is with his teammates and friends," Shelton said.