The Florida men’s tennis team plays two matches on the road this weekend.
The No. 9 Gators face No. 5 Texas A&M today in College Station, Texas, at 7 p.m. UF will also travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday to take on LSU (8-12, 1-7 SEC) at 1 p.m.
With only three matches left in the regular season, coach Bryan Shelton has emphasized that leadership will be essential for the team’s success down the stretch.
Shelton said that he spoke with junior Alfredo Perez and sophomore Johannes Ingildsen about how important they will be in the next two weeks both on and off the court.
“We need them to step up and play more confidently,” Shelton said. “We need them to be tougher on the court, especially in big moments to help lead this team.”
Perez and Ingildsen dropped from the No. 1 doubles team in the nation to No. 5 this week after a recent slump.
The duo has lost its last three matches, including a crushing 6-3 defeat on April 1 against South Carolina that resulted in Florida (13-7, 7-2 SEC) losing the doubles point for the first time in five matches.
Texas A&M (16-4, 8-0 SEC) will offer another obstacle. The Aggies are tied with Mississippi State for the top spot in the SEC standings, and their doubles play is a big reason why.
Texas A&M has four ranked doubles teams, including the No. 13-ranked pair of freshman Juan Carlos Aguilar and senior Jordi Arconada. The duo has won three of its last four matches and has led the way during the Aggies’ four-match win streak.
In singles, A&M possesses five ranked players, including No. 10 senior Arthur Rinderknech and No. 12 freshman Patrick Kypson.
Florida has played well in singles in the last couple of weeks, and Shelton underlined the solid play from freshman Oliver Crawford as a significant reason why.
Crawford, who won his third SEC Freshman of the Week honors on Wednesday, improved to a perfect 9-0 record against SEC opponents after another win against South Carolina’s Yancy Dennis.
“(Crawford) is a guy who is acting like an upperclassman,” Shelton said. “He is grabbing the bull by its horns and loving every minute of it.”
The freshman was instrumental in the big victory over top-ranked Wake Forest on March 30. Crawford defeated then-No. 30 Skander Mansouri in straight sets 7-5, 6-1 to clinch the match for his team.
Freshman Duarte Vale is another significant factor of Florida’s impressive singles play recently. With the match tied 2-2 against Wake Forest, Vale won his crucial singles match to give Florida the lead and allow Crawford to clinch it.
“I went through a bad streak, and I was kind of lost mentally,” Vale said. “I just tried to relax, and that really helped me raise my level.”
Shelton said that the team expects every opponent’s best, and it is up to how his players respond to the adversity that will result in the team’s success down the stretch of the season.
“You have to want each team’s very best,” Shelton said. “You have to embrace that you will get each team’s very best and solve each problem.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coach Bryan Shelton said he is expecting stiff competition in the final three matches of Florida's regular season. “You have to embrace that you will get each team’s very best and solve each problem," he said.