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Braden River High boys tennis duo is a pair of aces

Sophomore Benecio Claudino and junior Grant Hicks complement each other's strengths.

Braden River High sophomore Benecio Claudino and junior Grant Hicks are undefeated as a doubles pair in 2024. This is their first season together as a full-time pair.
Braden River High sophomore Benecio Claudino and junior Grant Hicks are undefeated as a doubles pair in 2024. This is their first season together as a full-time pair.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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For Braden River High's Benecio Claudino and Grant Hicks, their tennis partnership is all business. 

It is not that Claudino, a sophomore, and Hicks, a junior, do not get along. On the court, they do. But they don't spend much time together off the court, and being in different grades, they don't see each other in classes.

When it comes to building chemistry, they have to make the most out of their Braden River practice time. 

If it is a business partnership, then business is booming. Claudino and Hicks were undefeated (8-0) in the 2024 regular season, winning seven of eight matches in straight sets, and took the No. 1 Doubles title at the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A District 11 meet, held April 18 at Mariner High. The win gave the pair automatic qualification into the FHSAA Class 3A state tournament, held May 1-3 at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs. 

Braden River High sophomore Benecio Claudino and junior Grant Hicks complement each other on the tennis court, with Claudino having a strong forehand and Hicks having a strong backhand.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

It was, at first, a pairing of necessity. The two players spent their childhoods learning tennis, while most players on the Pirates started learning the game in high school. It made sense to put them together as the No. 1 pair, Braden River Head Coach James Straub said. 

Claudino and Hicks had played together a few times toward the end of the 2023 season with mixed results, Straub said, but he had a feeling there was untapped potential in the pairing. Claudino is versatile, Straub said, and Hicks' "loopier" shots can throw off an opponents' timing. 

As they learned how to best play together, it became apparent that Straub was right. Both players are right-handed. Claudino took the right side of the court, as he has the stronger forehand shot. Hicks, who has a good backhand and more length than Claudino, takes the left side on the net. It's a spot that allows Hicks to poach shots that would otherwise get to the back line, surprising opponents. 

Braden River High sophomore Benecio Claudino said he tries to think about tennis matches in the big picture, not getting emotional over a single point if there are more opportunities to get it back.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Unlike some tennis teams, where each player believes they are the one carrying the duo to victory, there's no debate here. Hicks admits that Claudino is the stronger player, with more velocity on his shots and the quickness to get to balls Hicks cannot. But Claudino is quick to talk about the extent Hicks has closed the gap this season, both with physical skills and with mental strength. Hicks said he's taken lessons from watching Claudino work. 

"(In the past) I might get nervous in the heat of the moment or tense up and then swing wrong," Hicks said. "It's nice to have a player see my mistakes and be able to tell me what went wrong, whether that is during a match or at practice. 'Shorten up your backswing' or 'You don't need that much (power) on a volley,' things like that." 

In terms of personality, Hicks said he is the more emotional player, celebrating or mourning each point won or lost. Claudino is more calculated, taking a bigger-picture view of the game. Instead of fretting over a point lost, he focuses on getting the next point back, as that is all the pair can do. 

No matter what happens, though, the pair has each other's back. 

"We support each other quite a bit," Claudino said. "We are always pumping each other up."

The pair is also sure to remind each other what not to do. High school tennis matches can often come down to limiting mistakes, while looking for opportunities to attack. Claudino said the pair keeps this idea top of mind and talks about mistakes to avoid. The fewer easy points the other team gets, the better. From playing each other in singles matches, Claudino said, the pair knows each other's weaknesses — which means they know how to minimize those weaknesses as a pair.

Braden River High junior Grant Hicks said he has learned a lot from watching and listening to sophomore Benecio Claudino.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Straub said the pair finally unlocked its potential at the district tournament. 

"They were pushed," Straub said. "They had to dig deep to win it, and they did." 

Another level of test will arrive at the state tournament. Both the players and Straub know any success there will not come easily. Winning will require using all the lessons the pair has learned to this point, playing as more of a well-oiled machine than ever. There can be no finger-pointing and no lackadaisical points. 

Straub believes in their ability to get it done. But, he said, that won't be enough on its own. 

"They have to believe in themselves," Straub said. "And I think now, they do." 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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