- Written by Russell Fuller
- BBC tennis correspondent in Melbourne
Oliver Crawford's first match under the British flag provided a notable career achievement: his first ever Grand Slam win.
The 24-year-old, who was born in South Carolina to parents from Birmingham, changed his citizenship from the US last week.
In his first match for Britain, Crawford beat Ilya Ivashka in three sets to reach the second round of the Australian Open qualifiers.
“I would say I feel more British than American sometimes,” Crawford told BBC Sport after his 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory on Court Seven at Melbourne Park.
“Obviously I grew up in the US but when you think about my heritage and what my family is, there isn't anyone from the US.
“I have a real passion to be with the flag for Great Britain. Today, when I heard my name and then played for Great Britain, it gave me goosebumps to be honest.”
He will get the chance to feel that again when he faces Italy's Francesco Passaro, ranked 195th in the world, on Thursday in the second of three qualifying rounds as he seeks to reach the main draw of this year's opening Grand Slam tournament, which begins on Sunday.
Crawford's parents spent the first 30 years of their lives in Birmingham, before moving to Germany where Oliver's father Julian worked for a chemical company.
Soon a job opened up in a new office in South Carolina, and with his wife pregnant with Oliver, the couple moved to Spartanburg.
Oliver, his younger sister and his parents used to make regular trips to Birmingham for Christmas or summer holidays. Many uncles, aunts and cousins still live in the area, along with one surviving grandmother, and he has plenty of opportunities to learn about the family history.
“My grandfather is buried in Birmingham and whenever I come back I try to visit and see everything. My uncle walks a lot so he is… [once] He took us on a 15-mile drive around Birmingham and saw their elementary school, middle school, and everything they were growing up in.”
Crawford, ranked No. 213 in the world and now ranked ninth in Britain, says playing for Britain has been on his mind for years.
“It seems to have worked at this point – I think there are a combination of reasons,” he said.
“The camaraderie between all the boys is unbelievable. The culture they have built is fantastic. Obviously my family is in the UK, and I love playing in Europe, so to have a base in London will be very good – and I will have the opportunity to coach at the level of the players over there, I think he is second to none.”
Crawford “would be thrilled” to be called up for the Davis Cup
One of Crawford's long-term goals is to play in the Davis Cup for Team Britain, and although he is fully aware that the switch is likely to boost his chances of earning a wildcard to Wimbledon and other grass-court tournaments, he says that is not his motivation.
“No, not at all,” he said, “and I made that clear to everyone.”
“Obviously if I had the opportunity I would be more than grateful. But I always believe in myself and that's how I support myself in the sense that I think I can get more attention to me. [which will] Build me into a better level of player.
“If I am called [for Davis Cup]I will be very happy about this. “I will do everything I can to play for them, but as of now I'm just focused on developing my game and working with everyone at LTA.”
Crawford can expect 'more TLC'
Crawford will not receive any direct funding from the LTA, but can earn up to £10,000 a year from the tournament bonus scheme and, as a top 250 player, will have access to the courts and gym at the National Tennis Centre. What may be even more valuable is the advice and expertise of LTA's coaches, doctors, physical therapists and nutritionists.
Leon Smith, a Davis Cup captain and head of men's tennis at the LTA, says Crawford's initial invitation in November came completely out of the blue.
He explained: “I immediately said: This is your personal choice, we will not recruit players from anywhere else, but if you switch, we can see how we can support you.”
“Now that he's done with that, we'll treat him like any other British player in this ranking and support him accordingly.
“The truth is, we don't have huge numbers in that rating bracket. Are you going to get a little more TLC in terms of people reaching out to you, messaging you a little bit more? Yes, you will – probably more than other countries, especially in states where there are such huge numbers.” “
Crawford also spoke to Jan Choynski, who used his British passport to switch allegiance from Germany in 2018, because he was aware that not everyone in British tennis might support his move.
He continued: “For me, this was the biggest worry and fear. Not that I thought there would be a problem, but I wanted to be accepted.”
“Of course there could be [resentment in the future]But I think that's in life. “I'm going to do that and be as friendly and polite to everyone as possible, and I imagine that's how I'll be treated just because of the culture and the camaraderie that the boys have built.”
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