DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer
It’s difficult to imagine that the No. 1 ranked doubles tennis team, made up of Baylor senior Jimmy Bendeck and sophomore Sven Lah, did not get along just a year ago.
The 2018 ITA All-American National Champions may be teammates, but according to Bendeck, they weren’t always friends.
“So, last year, his freshmen year, we actually didn’t get along. He was the only guy on the team that I didn’t have a strong relationship with,” Bendeck said. “It was just differences. He was stubborn and young and I kind of disagreed with a lot of things he said and did. And it was also me just being stubborn and young as well.”
Lah shared the same sentiment, noting that they didn’t even practice together and that despite being roommates at one point, they weren’t friends.
But things were changing for men’s tennis. Former head coach Matt Knoll, who coached the Bears for 22 years, resigned at the end of the 2017-18 season. Baylor then hired Brian Boland, who coached the past 16 years at Virginia, where he led the tennis team to four NCAA championship titles in the last five years.
Since Lah’s former partner, sophomore Roy Smith, decided to play the fall in the pro circuit and Bendeck had not made the doubles lineup at the end of last year due to injury, the opportunity arose for the two to put aside their differences and work together.
Boland said Bendeck and Lah have done a great job together and have really improved all around.
“They started playing together in the early fall. They always didn’t see eye to eye but I think over time they’ve realized how well they complement each other on the court and quite frankly off the court,” Boland said. “You know they’ve made each other better in all facets. They’ve been a special team to see grow and improve and work together on the court. And I think some of their ability to agree to disagree on things, and they’re both very passionate about doubles, they’re looking to get better every day, has been a huge advantage for them.”
The duo ended the fall season at No. 5 in the ITA doubles rankings and posted an 8-0 run in the ITA All-American Championships to bring the first doubles title to Baylor since 2003. They are now riding a 22-3 overall record as a doubles team and are 2-0 in Big 12 play after taking down TCU’s No. 6 ranked team of Reese Stalder and Bertus Kruger with a 6-4 win and following up with a 6-2 defeat of Texas’ No. 7 team of Christian Sigsgaard and Harrison Scott last weekend.
Lah said that as strange as it may seem that he and Bendeck weren’t friends before, they have gotten over the struggles and come out winners.
“As weird as it sounds, it’s real, you know,” Lah said. “And those struggles helped us, you know like Coach always said, ‘If you can lose together, you can win together’. So, I think, we already lost a lot together and this season we changed the picture and we won a lot together.”
Bendeck credits their success not just on the new “culture of values” that Boland has brought to the team, but also on the trust and honesty that he and Lah have built since they paired up. The Hollywood, Fla., native will graduate at the end of the semester and had planned to work on Wall Street after college. But the success that he and Lah have achieved over the past year have renewed his dream of playing pro tennis, which is what he has decided to pursue.
Bendeck said that the biggest difference is the confidence that he and Lah have gained in each other.
“I truly believe that there’s no one else I’m more confident in than Sven to do the right thing and to make the right choices and to be confident. And also, to be confident in me,” Bendeck said. “Not one second have I doubted him as a player and I’ve never felt that he’s ever doubted me as a player and that confidence that we have in each other and belief that we have in each other I think has made a huge difference in our success.”