No. 2 Florida Gators men's tennis set to host North Carolina in NCAA Sweet 16 matchup

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

There are countless reasons why the No. 2 Florida men’s tennis team could be feeling the weight of expectations heading into its NCAA Sweet 16 matchup Friday. 

This season, the defending national champions have consistently fended off the opposition’s best effort, and now the Gators (25-2) host No. 15 North Carolina at 5 p.m. at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex in the Gainesville Super Regional. 

UNC (18-8) has won eight of its previous 10 matches heading into Friday’s contest, with the two losses coming in the ACC Tournament championship to a pair of top-10 teams in No. 7 Virginia, 4-3, and No. 8 Wake Forest, 4-1. 

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Photos:Florida Gators tennis teams against Florida State at College MatchDay in Orlando

Florida's Andy Andrade watches the ball during the match against the Florida State Seminoles.

The Gators, with five players ranked in singles and three teams placed in the doubles rankings and 12-0 at home this season, are accustomed to playing under pressure and against upset-minded programs. 

Head coach Bryan Shelton’s approach is to ensure each competitor isn’t negatively affected by the thought of what awaits. 

“He doesn’t make it clear to us that it’s postseason, that it’s time, but he does remind each of us individually, and he comes and talks to us each individually, and he wants all 10 guys to be in a good and happy place,” fifth-year senior Andy Andrade said. “Anytime he sees us struggling in practice, he does a really good job with that.”

Tennis a family affair for Andy Andrade

It’s not as if Andrade, who holds the program-record in singles wins with 133, needs any additional coaching at this point.

Andrade is surrounded by tennis coaches, from his father, Aurelio, who coached him from an early age, to his 28-year-old older brother, Pedro. Aurelio Andrade coached at the highly regarded IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton from 2008 until 2016, while Pedro is currently coaching in the New York area. 

In the early stages of his son's UF career, Aurelio Andrade would often reach out to Shelton regarding Andy's continued development. 

“In the beginning when I was younger, my freshman year, he was talking more to coach Shelton,” Andy Andrade said. “But, I mean, as I grew up, I kind of wanted to have them not talk as much so they could talk to me personally, but every time he comes to watch the matches, he and Coach Shelton do talk about my progress and where I’m at.”

Coach Bryan Shelton and UF's Duarte Vale talk during a men's singles match against Texas A&M University at the 2021 NCAA D1 Tennis Championships on May 20, 2021 at the USTA National Campus in Orlando.

Being coached by a parent isn’t a situation every athlete can deal with, though Andrade is not alone when it comes to personal coaching at the collegiate level.

The most apparent example is of the Shelton family, where Ben Shelton, the nation’s No. 2-ranked singles player and the SEC Player of the Year, continues to develop on his father’s watch at UF. 

Andrade understands negative emotions can sometimes arise when the line is blurred between coach and parent, how feedback can be perceived as criticism instead of instruction. 

“Before, when I was in high school and I used to see my dad every day, it was a tougher relationship,” Andrade said. “Tennis life was going into the house. It got tough sometimes, but I do see why he did the stuff that he did with me, and it was all for the good of me.”

Ultimately it’s important for the student to focus on the teacher’s goal: improvement. 

“I’ve been there. Sometimes it can get tough, for both. Obviously it’s never easy, but I see Ben and coach Shelton and the way I think about it is I put myself through them, so with my dad,” Andrade said. “The only thing that Coach Shelton wants for Ben is for Ben to get better, and to improve, and to make it, and work on everything he has to work on.

"Sometimes it’s tough, but they both want Ben to improve and succeed.”

UF career coming to a close for Andrade

Through his success as an upperclassman — Andrade has been named to an All-SEC team in each of the last three seasons — he’s been consistently focused on how he can improve, which is why Andrade continues to seek out his father’s advice.

His UF career will soon come to a close, whether it’s Friday or over the next two weeks in the NCAA Tournament, and then Andrade will return to being coached by the one who helped guide him to this point — his father. 

“I do like to self-criticize myself a lot, but whenever I do go for help, I go to my three coaches here (Shelton, associate head coach Tanner Stump and volunteer assistant Scott Perelman) and then I go to my dad, who is my main coach I would say,” Andrade said. “He’s going to coach me after college, and he knows me the best. He tells me to work on these things, and then I do it and I see how it’s right. It’s kind of annoying how he’s always right, but he knows me the best.”

Before then, Andrade anticipates the Gators taking care of business and advancing to NCAA team championships in Champaign, Illinois. 

"I expect us to come through and win pretty much every match that we go into," Andrade said. "I don't see us losing in any way. I see us focusing on every single match, round by round, and when it all comes down I see us holding the trophy again."