#STINGDAILY: Adjusting to the American Way

Nov. 16, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Carlos Benito hasn’t had a choice but to adapt, yet of all the changes the Spaniard has made since arriving at Georgia Tech, the freshman tennis player quickly mentions one that lets you know that his Americanization process hasn’t been too big a deal.

Soon after he set foot on The Flats for the first time on Aug. 12, he noted a difference in meal times. “The most impressive thing was the time for lunch and dinner,” Benito said. “In Spain, you go for lunch at 2 or 3 and dinner at 9 or 10. Here, it’s like 11 and 6.”

So, no biggie.

Actually, Benito scuffled a bit for a while. He lost three of his first seven matches this fall before closing the autumn slate with three straight wins – in the Bulldog Scramble in Athens – and victories in eight of his last 11 times out.

As he gathered his bearings on and off the court, everything improved under the tutelage of head coach Kenny Thorne and assistant Derek Schwandt.

“I thought it would be less [competitive] . . . I got surprised when I played the first tournament,” Benito said. “[Opponents] work, there is intensity. You have to improve.

“Derek and Kenny have done a great job. I came here with some weaknesses. Now, I’m playing very well. I’m working on my backhand and serve, my serve targets and strategy.”

There were changes in the classroom as well.

Before graduating in June, Benito knew he wanted to attend school in the United States even though he’d been to the U.S. just once before for a juniors tournament in Miami in 2009.

Really, the choice wasn’t difficult to continue schooling abroad. In Europe, there are no organized college athletics. You either go to school, turn professional in your given sport, or start working.

“A lot of the Spanish guys have had so much success to in tennis, but a lot of them are really looking now to go to college [in the U.S.],” Thorne said. “The economy is tough in a lot of places, but it’s really tough in Spain so instead of turning pro now a lot of these guys are looking to come over.

“You have to make a choice, am I going to school or am I going to play my sport. They’re starting to learn that this is an incredible system we have of being able to being able to pursue both.”

The Tech connection came into play because one of Benito’s good friends from the city of Madrid, junior Eduardo Segura, was already at Tech and on the tennis team.

“I chose Georgia Tech because . . . Eddie’s been my friend since a long time ago,” he said. “He sent pictures, and he told me how it is.”

Segura also mentioned Benito to Thorne, who in turn found video of the young player and began following him from afar without visiting Spain.

“We get e-mails with video all the time, they have ITF world rankings, and you see all different levels of ITF tournaments,” the coach said. “A lot of these guys are playing small pro tournaments [as amateurs]. Carlos had some good wins on the Futures tour, and beat an All-American who played at Texas A&M.”

Once at Tech, Benito’s adaptations went beyond cuisine and dining times.

He began as an economics major, but has already decided to change next semester to industrial engineering. School is quite a bit different here than there.

“Almost every day you are doing homework and projects,” he explained. “Eddie told me it was going to be like that. The tests are multiple choice. That’s easier for me because I prefer multiple choice because of the language.”

Benito’s English is improving steadily. He said he’s better reading it and hearing it than speaking it.

He’s looking forward to a trip home over the holidays. He most misses, “Friends, family, food.”

Having been through this before with international players, including several from Spain, Thorne is looking forward to Benito’s return after a fall season where much of his lineup was addled by injuries or sidelined as precautionary measures to preserve them for the more important spring schedule.

“I think it was very tough on him in the beginning. He’s made some very good progressions,” the coach said. “I think a lot of times when [international freshmen] come back in January, they’re an even much, much better player in January than they are now. They’re familiar . . . they know what’s going on.”

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