Swedish tennis player has high competitive spirit as a Huskie


Wes Sanderson

Junior tennis player Oliver Valentinsson celebrates during a match against Binghamton University April 1 in DeKalb.

By DeOndre Saunders, Sports Reporter

Junior Oliver Valentinsson loves to be competitive, and he gets to exhibit that trait through his hard work and success on the tennis court as a Huskie.

Valentinsson grew up in the south of Sweden in Malmo.

“Malmo is the third-largest city in Sweden, but it only has about 350,000 people,” Valentinsson said. 

He said the vibes in Sweden are awesome, and it’s easy to get around to places.

Valentinsson started playing tennis when he was four years old and also played ice hockey and European fútbol when he was young.

When he started to get older, it became time for him to choose a sport to focus all his dedication to.

“I had to choose which sport I wanted to play, and I came up with a dilemma and chose tennis because that’s the sport that I loved the most,” Valentinsson said.

He likes to hold himself accountable for developing tennis skills because it is an individual sport. Valentinsson is on an upward trajectory, and he has a lot more effort he has to give in this sport.

“Oliver is super competitive which I think leads to all the success he has had since joining the team,” redshirt senior teammate Kristopher Ortega said. “Whether it’s practice or a real game, he just doesn’t like to lose.”

He moved to America in 2017 and first attended the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. He came to the United States by himself to get a better education and to play tennis. 

Valentinsson liked his private school in Texas because of how beautiful the weather and the courts were. 

“You knew everyone including the professors on a very personal level because they were so open and very nice,” Valentinsson said.

Junior tennis player Oliver Valentinsson swing his racket at a tennis ball during a match against Binghamton University April 1 in DeKalb. (Wes Sanderson)

In his freshman year, his singles record was 10-3, and his doubles record was 4-1. His sophomore year got cut short in the 2019-20 season, but he had a 3-6 singles record and 4-3 doubles record.

Even though the school and people were nice in Texas, Valentinsson said he didn’t feel like there was a competitive tennis environment on the courts, so he transferred to NIU. 

“I left because, tennis wise, I wanted to strive for more and wanted to be recognized on a bigger stage,” Valentinsson said. “I came to NIU and transferring made a huge difference because NIU lets me strive for higher goals.”

In his first year at NIU in the 2020-21 season, his singles record was 19-3 and his doubles record was 18-4. 

“I think I was comfortable with my team and coaches and I think I was in a great state of mind during that season,” Valentinsson said.

Valentinsson believes that state of mind was good for him because when he first moved to America he struggled with mental health. His family still lives in Sweden so he doesn’t have them in person to support him.

“Both of my parents motivate me to be the greatest person and greatest tennis player I can be and they have been a good support system,” Valentinsson said. “I couldn’t be more grateful for them, they’re both my biggest inspirations.” 

Although he is not with his family, his teammates and coaches are a welcome substitute. He and his teammates are very close and most of them live together. 

“I think it’s important for you to develop a relationship with your teammates on a personal level,” Valentinsson said.

Ortega praised Valentinsson’s work ethic and dedication as a loyal teammate on the NIU men’s tennis program.

“Oliver is a very hard worker and he loves the game a lot,” Ortega said. “He always tries his best and gives it 100% and always puts in time outside of the court.”

The coaching staff is also like family to Valentinsson and he likes how the coaches push the players. 

“They want us to be competitive no matter the circumstances and I wouldn’t want it any other way because I am a competitive and emotional player,” Valentinsson said.

Valentinsson’s goals for this season are to win all of his remaining matches and enjoy the sweetness of victory. He wants to give it 110% every time he steps on the court, whether it’s practice or a game. 

“I just want to prove that I can be great at what I do no matter what it is,” Valentinsson said. “I think I am doing that when it comes to tennis.”