Young Blue Devil maturing on and off the tennis court

Young Blue Devil maturing on and off the tennis court

Academies of West Memphis tennis player Carlson Bennage talks about his love of the game and how it’s helped him develop not only his skill but his character

sports@theeveningtimes.com

While some of the world’s tennis greats partake in the French Open in Paris, a talented young prospect continues to develop his strokes in West Memphis, Arkansas.

Top ranked player on the Academies of West Memphis tennis team Carlson Bennage recently returned from the Southern Closed 16U Championship Tournament in Little Rock, Arkansas, where the local talent won three matches before being eliminated by a nationally ranked player in the third round of the consolation bracket.

Bennage won each of his victorious rounds in two sets: 6-1, 6-1 in his first win, 6-1, 6-0 in his second and 6-4, 6-0 in his final win of the tournament.

The fifteen-year-old Bennage, who ranks 9th out of approximately 200 players in the state of Arkansas and 120th out of almost 1,000 players in the Southern Region in the 16U division of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), has played in nearly 200 tournaments since he started playing competitively at twelveyears- old. While going to tournaments and being on the road so often can be overwhelming for the young talent, Bennage says his love for tennis supersedes everything else.

“I love the sport,” Bennage said. “So, I can never get enough of it.

There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. But, when you finally get to these tournaments and show how hard you’ve been working and beat some of these really good players, it’s a great experience.”

Bennage, who is going into his junior year at West Memphis High School, says he hits the road two or three times a month to play tennis competitively, traveling to such places as Mobile, Alabama, where he won his first tournament, playing in the 14U division, and where his passion for the game grew even more.

“I was thirteen, playing in the 14U’s,” Bennage said.

“It was my first Southerns, my first really huge tournament, and I got out there not knowing what to expect. I played a kid from Georgia, and he got up on me. I just fought back. It was a great match that I pulled out in the end. After that moment, it really made me want to keep playing tennis and try to improve my game.”

Bennage says to this day, that first tournament victory is still one of his most cherished memories.

“One of my favorite memories is probably my first Southerns ever and just being there, winning a match, was just crazy to me,” Bennage said. “It was a very surreal experience.”

However, Bennage’s road to tournament wins began long ago on a tennis court in West Memphis where his mom, Jane Bennage, introduced the game to her son.

“Mom my used to play college tennis,” Bennage said. “So, she got me into the sport… I’m very thankful for her to do that for me. It’s given me a lot of things in life and I think it’s got a bright future for me.”

Bennage hopes that one of those things tennis could provide for his future is a college scholarship.

Personally, a couple of the West Memphis junior’s favorite colleges include the University of Arkansas and the University of Mississippi. However, Bennage says, tennis has already helped him develop his character off the court.

“It’s a really humbling experience to play tennis,” Bennage said. “It creates a character because most tennis players act very nice and civilized and all that kind of stuff. So, it’s built up my character as a person.”

On the court the sport of tennis, which focuses so much on a single individual’s ability to perform, seems to have provided the young Blue Devil a sense of composure rarely seen in fifteen-year-olds.

“It’s definitely intense,” Bennage said. “You’ve got a lot of pressure on yourself. But, I’ve learned to cope with the pressure over the years that I’ve been playing and started to not feel pressure at all.”

When Bennage isn’t developing his craft under the instruction of West Memphis High School coach Kevin Holt and his USTA coach Bob Speilman, he is cheering on his favorite professional tennis player Rodger Federer, who Bennage says emulates how he would like to perform on and off the tennis court.

“He’s a complete class act,” Bennage said of Federer. “He plays the game in a great way and he just acts the role too. You never see him get mad or anything.”

Perhaps, one day Bennage may play on a court once graced by his professional role model. But, until then, the local talent says he is just enjoying being able to compete in matches and showing the grace and dignity that tennis has given him off the court.

“It’s hard to not like playing, if you’re pretty good at it,” Bennage said. “So, it’s a really fun sport to me. I like the competitive nature of it, and the people are always so nice that I play against. It’s never a dull moment.”

Bennage hits the road again this Friday for the Firecracker tournament in Jonesboro, taking place from June 23rd – June 25th.

By Collins Peeples

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