Alyza Benotto ’18 leads tennis to victory

Tennis star helps end team’s drought, crushes Stony Brook University in both singles, doubles

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2018

Alyza Benotto ‘18 broke a month-long drought for the tennis team last weekend. She hopes to go to the NCAA championships this season.

Before notching a 6-1 victory over Stony Brook University, the women’s tennis team (6-7) had not won a match in a month. But the Bears broke the drought Saturday as Alyza Benotto ’18 contributed two points to the team score and helped put Bruno on top. The veteran paired up with first-year teammate Semi Oloko ’21 to down the Seawolves (4-4) 6-2 and secure the doubles point for Brown before going on to dominate her singles match, winning 6-0, 6-1.

For her clutch performances and leadership on the court, Benotto received Brown University Athletics Student-Athlete of the Week honors and has been named The Herald’s Athlete of the Week.

Herald: Congratulations on the win! What was going through your head during your doubles and singles matches?

Benotto: Thank you! For doubles I’m playing with a (first-year), Semi Oloko, so I kind of have to show her the ropes while we’re playing, get her pumped up and manage her while managing me, too, which is a challenge but fun at the same time. … Our biggest issue (in doubles) is that we’re not aggressive enough sometimes. So my job is to try to at least make us come to the net more, poach and always keep (Oloko) hyped up, because if we fall flat, we’ll make stupid errors.

In singles, to be honest, I just played really well. … I was playing super steady. My serve was really good.

Do you get nervous during matches? How do you handle the nerves?

Yeah, my hands get really, really clammy when I play. Even in the middle of a point, I have to wipe it on my skirt because I get so nervous. When you get nervous, it shuts down your body. You’re almost like paralyzed. Then your legs go, and once your legs go, you’re like, “Oh my god, I can’t run!” And then your arms go, and you’re like, “Oh my god, I can’t swing!” Then you’re freaking out. … It’s tennis, so you can’t sub someone in. You have to sit there and just reset and breathe. … My trick is to take really deep breaths, and I say weird things to myself. I say “blank.” I just keep repeating “blank” in my head because then I don’t think about anything but that one neutral word.

Do you have any superstitions or pre-game rituals?

I’m really superstitious on the court. When I walk, I don’t walk on the lines. … I have two separate balls depending on which side I serve on. … If I put my waters down to my right and I lose the game, I’m like, “Alright, that obviously didn’t work. Gotta move it.” If something works, I don’t change. If I mess up, obviously I jinxed myself, so I change everything.

How did you first start playing tennis?

My mom, when she was in her twenties, dated this professional tennis player. They broke up, but ever since then, she was like “Oh my god, tennis is amazing. I love it so much.” … I’m from (Los Angeles), and our family and a bunch of other families were part of this country club. All of the parents threw us into tennis just so the moms could talk and hang out. The coach, one day, was like, “Alyza’s actually pretty good. You should get her private lessons.” … Then I started to do private lessons, and here I am. … I was training to be pro, but I wanted to go to college first.

Is there a player you model your game after?

My favorite player is Serena Williams just because she’s a beast, and she’s from (Los Angeles). My old coach used to be (Maria) Sharapova’s coach, so he modeled my strokes after her — at least my backhand.

What are your personal goals and the team goals for the rest of the season?

For team goals, it’s definitely win (the Ivy League Championships). That’s always our main one, because if we win Ivies, we get a ticket to NCAAs. … I want a ring for sure. Our text group chat is “ring season.” Individually, win all my matches from here on out. Play my game style and don’t revert back to pushing. … Just be brave is my mental goal.

As your tennis career at Brown comes to a close, what will you miss the most?

I’ll miss just being an athlete. It’s kind of a sense of pride … you work hard at something. There’s an end goal with your team. After that, it’s kind of like, “Okay, now what?” If I’m going to play tennis, it’s going to be for myself, and that’s a lot of work. I’ll definitely miss the team aspect of it.

What are your plans post-graduation?

I go back and forth because my family is like super “go pro, go pro, go pro.” But I want to see how I am at the end of the season. If my body is still in great shape and no injuries. If my spirit’s not broken. … The optimal life path would be to get a job and maybe train on the side. … Maybe work for a year, and if I’m still feeling it, maybe try to go pro.

What has been your favorite memory of your collegiate tennis career?

I really, really like traveling with the team. Whenever we go somewhere, it’s always super fun. Two years ago, we went to Florida for spring break. We got time to go to the beach, and it was just fun to be somewhere else with your closest friends.

The Bears will travel to Florida over spring break to face off against the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida before returning to New England for a slate of Ivy League matches.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.