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Commitment Profile
Jimena Rodriguez-Benito Heads to Penn Early

Blue Chip junior Jimena Rodriguez-Benito turns 17 in July, however she has already turned the page on her high school career.

Jimena Rodriguez-Benito has committed to Penn
Rodriguez-Benito, who has taken classes through Laurel Springs for nearly three years, has decided to graduate early and commit to Penn - a year ahead of her graduation class.

Ranked 16th nationally and number one in the Southeast and in Florida, Rodriguez-Benito (Miami, Fla.) has been admitted to the Wharton School of Business.

"Committing to the University of Pennsylvania was probably the easiest decision I've made," she said. "From the beginning of my college search, attending UPenn at the Wharton Business School was my number one choice.

"Tennis has most certainly played a role in that decision because I think that the mentality of a successful business person is very similar to that of a successful athlete," Rodriguez-Benito said. "Quick decision making is a trait that both an athlete and a business woman need to possess in order to be successful."

Her top-5 colleges choices were UPenn, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, and Brown. She never ended up visiting the other schools on her list because right as her college search started, she got a call from UPenn coach Sanela Kunovac offering her the opportunity to fast track through school and attend the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania a year early.

"It was not a hard decision to make seeing that UPenn was my top choice and dream school," Rodriguez-Benito said. "It was challenging to do my junior year and senior year during one academic year.

Rodriguez-Benito has lived in many areas
"However, I found that my time management skills really came into place here and still made it possible for me to compete in my first Junior Grand Slam," she said. "My day-to-day schedule was very packed and had no free time. I believe that what made this all possible was my desire to attend my dream school."

In 2016 ITFs, Rodriguez-Benito was singles runner-up in Delray Beach, USA G4; El Salvador Junior, El Salvador G4; and Copa Galileo, Guatemala G4. She won the IFT Peru Junior Open, Peru G5 and was runner-up in the Gogo Open, Ecuador G5 - both in 2015.

Rodriguez, who hits right-handed and has a two-handed backhand, cited her wins over Malene Helgo (Oslo, Norway), 6-1; 6-2 in 2016 at the Eddie Herr and Ana Biskic (Croatia), 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 at the Australian Open Juniors (Last round of qualification) as her biggest of her career. Helgo held an ITF ranking of 33 at the time, while the win over Biskic was very memorable since it moved her to the main draw of the tournament.

"I was down 5-2 in the third set," said Rodriguez-Benito, who fell in the main draw in singles and reached the round of 16 in doubles. "I fought and fought to make a comeback and ended up winning 7-5 in the third."

Her pre-match ritual is the same before every competition. She always talks about the game plan before matches with her coach.

"If my coach isn't with me at that specific tournament, we still talk about the game plan through text," Rodriguez-Benito continued. "I also like to grip and stencil my rackets before going on court."

Even though her strongest shot is her forehand, she believes her best attribute is her demeanor on the court.

"I think that my biggest strength is that I always put up a fight," Rodriguez-Benito said. "I like to think of tennis as an equation. There are many steps involved to find what you are looking for, but if you can put all the steps together you get the result you are looking for."

When Rodriguez-Benito is on the court, she said she feels "at home, in my comfort zone and hungry to get better."

"When my opponent forces me outside my comfort zone, I try to adapt as fast as I can and seize the opportunity to amplify my own comfort zone," she said. "I try to make it become part of my comfort zone."

Rodriguez-Benito started playing tennis recreationally as a 4-year-old. She began playing in Switzerland where she lived at the time with her family. The family has moved around a lot because of her father's career as a banker with J.P. Morgan. Rodriguez-Benito has also lived in Mexico, San Francisco, and Naples before moving back to her native Miami three years ago.

"While my family and I were driving past a tennis club in Switzerland, I saw some kids playing tennis, and I told my parents that I wanted to try what they were doing," said Rodriguez-Benito, who played her first tournament at the age of 8. "One thing led to another, and my passion for the sport grew stronger with every forehand I hit.

Her biggest influence in the sport is her family.

"My parents have always supported me throughout my whole tennis career," she said. "They have been there with me every step of the way and motivated me. My sister however is my greatest inspiration. She has taught me to use my mental strength as a weapon and a source of belief."

She likes the challenges the sport presents.

"Tennis has always been something I can rely on," Rodriguez-Benito said. "What I like most about the sport are the third set tiebreakers, the comebacks, the match points ... those are the moments I train and play for.

Rodriguez-Benito is graduating a year early
"Those moments are the ones that test my mental strength - not my technique and not the amount of forehands I've hit," she continued. "It tests if I can tie everything together and execute with a sense of mental balance ... Of course winning in straight sets is ideal, but when you get to those big moments, those are the most exciting matches to win."

Rodriguez-Benito's immediate goal would be to start for the Quakers and win the Ivy League title.

"I hope to take my game to the next level," she said. "I want to learn and grow from my teammates as well as the coaches at UPenn."

Lawrence Carpio, Head Professional Coach at the LAT Tennis Academy in Boynton Beach, has worked with Rodriguez-Benito for the past two years, and she is among 25 students at the Academy.

"Jimena is one of the hardest workers I have seen, and on a daily basis you can count on her to bring a great attitude and intensity to practice," Carpio said. "Her jump from being a 4-Star recruit into a Blue-Chip recruit in less than two years attests to her determination, work ethic, and, unlike many junior players, her trust in the long-term process."

She lauded Carpio with her ascent in the sport.

"He is the one that really brought my game to the next level," Rodriguez-Benito said. "When I started with him I was around 140 nationally according to tennis recruiting. In less than two years of working with him I became a blue chip and am now 16 nationally."

Carpio said Rodriguez-Benito has really improved - creating situations where she is able to command points hitting her best shots, rather than settling for what her opponent gives her.

"She has also learned how to better manage her intentions and how and when to change gears in important stages of matches," Carpio added. "This came out in one of the highlights of her junior career when she was playing in the final round of qualifying at the Australian Open Juniors down 5-2 in the third set and battled her way back to win 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 and qualify for the main draw.

Rodriguez-Benito has had success as an ITF Junior
"I believe Jimena will be very successful at the collegiate level, on and off the court," he added. "She has great potential to be a top college player, due to her athleticism that allows her to command points and defend well. More importantly, one of her best qualities - that translates to any avenue of life - is that she is always eager to learn new things and is extremely coachable."

There will be an adjustment playing college tennis.

"I have never played tennis as a team sport," Rodriguez-Benito said. "Coming into college is going to be a new experience. I do however believe that I have learned to adapt to any situation. I have developed this skill from moving countries or cities every two to three years. I look forward to playing as a team and supporting my teammates.

"I don't think (balancing college courses and tennis) will be much different as I have been doing this past year," she concluded. "I have learned to manage my time very well and find time for everything - even playing the biggest event of my career - the Junior Australian Open."


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About Gary Curreri

Gary Curreri is an award-winning freelance photojournalist based in South Florida. His stories frequent the South Florida Sun Sentinel Community News sections, in addition to providing high school and soccer coverage for the publication. He covers every sport under the sun from pro sports to junior tennis.

Curreri is a former magazine and newspaper editor and has won more than a dozen Florida Press Association and Florida Press Club awards. He is the athletic photographer for Nova Southeastern University and was recognized by Rowing News Magazine as having one of the top rowing photos of the century. In his "spare" time, he's a nationally licensed soccer coach.

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Page updated on Tuesday, May 16, 2017
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