By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Even after winning 48 singles matches in his first two seasons at Baylor, Jimmy Bendeck’s not sure if he will play professional tennis one day.
One thing’s for certain, though, he will represent Honduras “for a long time . . . until there’s someone better than me to take my place.”
The Baylor junior holds national citizenships in Spain, Honduras and the United States, but represented Honduras in a Davis Cup tournament this summer in Montevideo, Uruguay, and then at the World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan.
“It was overwhelming in the sense that I didn’t realize how big it was,” said Bendeck, who was born in Spain but spent the first six years of his life in Honduras before moving to Florida. “Representing Honduras was amazing. . . . The whole experience of meeting all these different cultures, all the different Honduran athletes, being able to support them and them support me, it was just incredible.”
Sophomore Jessica Hinojosa represented her native Mexico in the World University Games, making it all the way to the consolation finals before losing to Italy’s Camilla Abbate, 6-3, 6-2.
“I think it’s the best experience I’ve had,” said Hinojosa, who played in junior grand slam events at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and French Open. “Going there, I knew my teammates, so that was really fun to know them and to share the experience with them. And then also, meeting other Mexican athletes that were in the same place as me, and wearing the Mexican uniform. That was so big, walking into the stadium for the opening ceremony, with the flags and all the people knowing where you’re from and cheering for you. It was incredible.”
In some ways, their backgrounds and stories are similar, even in coming to Baylor. But, they are also uniquely different.
Growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, a big city with plenty of tennis clubs, Hinojosa said she had “a lot of options for me to have the chance to play tennis. Everyone is so into tennis. So, that was a good thing growing up there. And then, I went to train at the academy in Merida, Yucatan, which is the best academy in Mexico.”
Playing in over 100 ITF juniors matches around the world, Hinojosa won an ITF doubles title in Berlin, Germany, played in three of the grand slam events and had a world junior ranking of No. 59.
“All my juniors career, my goal was to get into the grand slams,” she said. “Obviously, being there was a dream come true. I got to meet all the pro players that I’m a huge fan of, all the biggest names were there – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic. It was incredible. You get to share the dining halls with them and see them at every practice and everywhere. You almost feel like you’re one of them.”
Coming out of juniors, Hinojosa’s plan was to join the pro ranks. College tennis wasn’t even on her radar until she started getting recruited by coaches and learned that “it was a really good opportunity playing for a school and getting everything like you’re a pro player.”
She looked at other schools, like TCU and Texas Tech, “but when I came (to Baylor on a visit), right away I decided to come here, because I thought it was so nice with the facilities, the coaching staff, and my teammates were also so good to me.”
“I was following her all over the world,” Baylor women’s head coach Joey Scrivano said. “Watching her play – I still have it in my notes – the first thing I wrote down was just ‘calm under pressure.’ This is a decision-making sport, you’re constantly being forced to make decisions, and she makes a lot of good decisions on the court. That’s one of the reasons why she’s such a good tennis player.”
As a freshman, Hinojosa was a perfect 6-0 in conference play and 18-9 in singles overall, playing mostly at the No. 6 spot.
“The level is obviously so high here in college,” she said, “so I had to adjust many parts of my game. And that was hard at first. But then when I got used to it, it got easier, and I thought I really improved my first year here. . . . From what I learned last year, now I’m more prepared and know more what to expect in every match.”
Before playing in the World University Games, Hinojosa had never given much thought to representing her country.
“But now, being there and knowing what it’s like, it’s one of my biggest goals to reach the Olympics, for sure,” she said.
Along with senior Theresa Van Zyl, freshman Liva Kraus and fellow sophomore Angelina Shakhraichuk, Hinojosa will play in the H-E-B Invitational that begins Friday at the Hurd Tennis Center. Joining the Baylor quartet are players from Mississippi State, Kentucky, LSU, Louisiana Tech, Houston, TCU and Tyler Junior College.
“We just want to give our players an opportunity to compete and see where they stand right now,” Scrivano said. “College tennis is really different from professional and junior tennis in that there’s on-court coaching and there’s the sudden-death points (at 40-40). It’s really a more accountable game and a more pressured game than pro tennis. It’s a good opportunity for our players to compete and gauge their level of play.”
Like Hinojosa, Bendeck grew up in a tennis hotbed in Hollywood, Fla., becoming a five-star recruit that was ranked as high as No. 37 nationally and No. 6 in the Florida Men’s Open division.
That’s where he benefitted from his family moving from Honduras when he was 6 years old.
“It’s tough in Honduras, because it’s not a very wealthy country. There isn’t a lot of tennis opportunities, tennis courts, not that many coaches,” he said. “It’s hard to produce the kind of players that can really make it. Honestly, the guys on the Davis Cup team were amazing. It’s mind-blowing how good they are for the opportunities they’ve had. One of them was a ball boy growing up. He would go to the local courts and help people pick up balls, and they would let him borrow a racket. That’s how he learned.”
In his first Davis Cup experience, Bendeck played for Honduras at the Group III Americas playoffs back in June. In their best-ever showing, the Hondurans went 3-1 in pool play and advanced to the “ascending match” for the first time, losing 3-0 to Uruguay.
“The guys I played with, my teammates, they had been playing Davis Cup for nine to 10 years now, since they were kids,” Bendeck said. “The moment we beat Jamaica in doubles, the look on their faces, honestly, that was one of the most amazing things in the world. I did not understand how important it was until that day and I saw their faces, how happy they were.”
Bendeck, who was 68th in the ITA preseason national rankings, went 2-2 at the Ivy-Plus Invitational in Princeton, N.J., and then lost in the opening round of the qualifying draw earlier this week at the ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla.
Like Hinojosa, Bendeck dreams of playing in the Olympics one day.
“Honduras brought many emotions to me,” he said. “It humbled me, it brought new friendships into my life, it made me proud to represent the country. . . . Making the Olympics would be a big deal for the country and, obviously, a big deal for myself. That’s my biggest tennis goal outside of college.”