March 27, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
A winner takes the negative of a loss and finds the positives in it, making himself in the process.
That search for positives gets harder the longer a losing streak goes on, as even the most optimistic person begins to run out of places to look and things to find.
Carlos Benito went through such a challenging search at the end of last spring, as he dropped five of his final six singles matches and his final nine doubles matches. He went through it as a freshman in a new country, no less.
Out of the wreckage, Benito learned the biggest lesson of all — become mentally stronger or be gone.
He chose the former and it’s paid off.
Heading into Friday’s match against Louisville at Ken Byers Complex (a 4 p.m. start time) the 20-year-old native of Madrid sports a 14-3 singles record (3-2 in ACC) this spring, while, on the doubles side he and partner, senior countryman Eduardo Segura (also a Madrid native) are 9-4 (3-1 within the conference).
In retrospect, last spring’s finish was just a bump in the road and is long gone. It didn’t faze him then and certainly doesn’t now, as he reflects on what good came out of it.
“As I always say, `A crisis is always good,'” Benito said, with a laugh. “It’s going to make you change something and improve. That definitely was good for us to make changes. We had some conversations, we talked through some things, what things we could change or how we handle different situations in matches.”
For the 6-2, 187-pound sophomore the biggest issue was getting himself in the proper state of mind.
“My mindset this year, that’s what’s helped me the most,” he said. “I think I’ve grown. I’m much more mature this year. I’ve been working a year with coaches, Kenny [Thorne] and Derek [Schwandt]. I’ve been working mentally more than technically or physically.
“I need to hit every stroke,” he added. “Before coming here my biggest weakness was the backhand. I’ve worked a lot on it and it’s gotten so much better. Also, this semester, the mental change we’ve done.”
Starting the spring playing anywhere from No. 4 through 6, Benito came out on fire, rolling to victories in 13 of his first 14 matches, with 10 of those wins coming in straight sets. Beginning on Feb. 28, against Stetson, Thorne moved Benito into the top three. He won 6-2, 6-1 that day and has stayed hot. He’s won five of his seven matches playing in the top half, all in straight sets and in seven of the sets he’s dropped two-or-fewer games. On Friday he’ll look to get past a mild hiccup that has seen him fall in two of his last three matches.
He’s been as successful in doubles, where he and Segura are 9-4, 3-1 in ACC play and have won three of their last four matches (another was unfinished with them holding a 6-5 lead). The duo looks to avoid dropping back-to-back matches for the first time this season when they play at No. 1 against the Cardinals.
Benito and Segura had earned a national ranking as high as No. 15 early last Spring before struggling in ACC play. Particularly frustrating was that six matches in their season-ending skid found them on the wrong end of 8-6 or 8-7 scores.
This spring they’re 4-3 in close matches and have won four of their last five.
“We have a really good connection, being friends for so long,” said Benito. “We communicate very well. We know each other’s weaknesses and strengths and how to handle the different situations together.
“We’re really focused on a few points because those points are going to decide the match, winning it or losing it.”
Benito has set the bar high for the remainder of the season, especially with three of the season’s final four weekends being played at the Byers Complex, where the Jackets are 7-3 this season.
“It’s so big,” he said. “You have more hours of sleep, you have your friends and the crowd supporting you, also you’re playing on your court.”
It’s especially big for this young team (one senior, two juniors, four freshmen, two sophomores) heads toward postseason.
“From here, we are going to get better,” he said. “That’s the only way it’s going to go.”
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