Australian Open 2024: Oliver Crawford wins in first match under British flag

Oliver Crawford hits the ball
Image caption,Oliver Crawford is now the British number nine

By Russell Fuller

BBC tennis correspondent in Melbourne

Oliver Crawford’s first match under the British flag delivered a notable career landmark: his first ever win at a Grand Slam tournament.

The 24-year-old, who was born in South Carolina to two parents from Birmingham, switched his nationality from the United States last week.

In his first match for Britain, Crawford beat Ilya Ivashka in three sets to reach the second round of Australian Open qualifying.

“I would say I feel more British than American at times,” Crawford told BBC Sport after his 6-3 3-6 6-1 win on court seven at Melbourne Park.

“Obviously, I have grown up in the States but when you think of my heritage and what my family is all about, there’s not anyone from the States.

“I have a real passion for being with the Great Britain flag. Today hearing my name, and then playing for Great Britain, it gave me chills to be honest.”

He will get the chance to feel like that again when he faces Italian world number 195 Francesco Passaro on Thursday in the second of three qualifying rounds as he seeks to reach the main draw of the opening Grand Slam of the year, which starts on Sunday.

Crawford’s parents spent the first 30-odd years of their lives in Birmingham, before relocating to Germany where Oliver’s father Julian worked at a chemical company.

A job in a new office in South Carolina soon came up, and with his wife pregnant with Oliver, the couple moved to the city of Spartanburg.

Oliver, his younger sister and parents used to make regular trips back to Birmingham for Christmas or the summer holidays. Many uncles, aunts and cousins still live in the area, along with one surviving grandmother, and he has had plenty of opportunity to learn the family history.

“My grandfather is buried in Birmingham and whenever I go back I try and visit and see everything. My uncle is a big walker and so he [once] took us on a 15-mile walk all around Birmingham and saw their primary school, their middle school and everything growing up.”

Crawford, who is ranked 213 in the world and is now the British number nine, says playing for Britain has been in the back of his mind for years.

But why now?

“It just seemed to click at this stage – I think there’s a bunch of reasons,” he said.

“The camaraderie between all the boys is unbelievable. The culture they have built is wonderful. Obviously my family is in the UK, I love playing in Europe so having a base in London is going to be very good – and to have the opportunity to train with the calibre of players there, I think is second to none.”

Crawford ‘would be over the moon’ with a Davis Cup call-up

One of Crawford’s long-term goals is to play Davis Cup for GB and even though he is very aware the switch is likely to boost his chance of a wildcard to Wimbledon and other grass-court tournaments, he says that is not his motivation.

“No, not at all, and I’ve made that clear to everyone,” he said.

“Obviously, if the opportunity ever arose I would be more than grateful. But I’ve always believed in myself and this is me backing myself in the sense that I think that I can get extra eyes on me [which will] build me to a better calibre of player.

“If I was called up [for Davis Cup], I would be over the moon about it. I would do anything I can to play for them, but as of right now I’m just focussed on developing my game and working with everyone at the LTA.”

Crawford can expect ‘a bit more TLC’

Crawford will not receive any direct LTA funding, but could earn up to £10,000 per year from the tournament bonus scheme, and as a top-250 player will have access to the courts and the gym at the National Tennis Centre. What may prove even more valuable is the advice and experience of the LTA’s coaches, medics, physios and nutritionists.

Leon Smith, who is both the Davis Cup captain and the LTA’s head of men’s tennis, says Crawford’s initial call in November came completely out of the blue.

“Straightaway I said: ‘This is your personal choice – we are not going out to recruit players from anywhere else, but if you make the switch then we can see how we can support you,'” he explained.

“Now that he’s done that we’ll treat him like any other player that’s British of that ranking and support him accordingly.

“The fact is we don’t have huge numbers in that ranking bracket. Will you get a bit more TLC in terms of people reaching out to you, messaging you a bit more? Yes, you will – perhaps more than other countries, especially in the States, where they have such vast numbers.”

Crawford also spoke to Jan Choinski, who used his British passport to switch allegiance from Germany in 2018, as he was aware not everyone in British tennis might support his move.

“For me that was the biggest worry and fear. Not that I thought there was going to be a problem, but I wanted to be accepted,” he continued.

“Of course there could be [resentment in the future], but I think that’s in life. I’m just going to go about it and be as friendly and polite to everyone as possible, and I imagine that’s going to be the way I am treated back just because of the culture and the camaraderie the boys have built.”

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