Tommy Bennett arrived at the car slightly late for the tennis team’s six-hour road trip to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. By the time he reached the car, only the back middle seat had been left for him — leading to what Bennett said was a small disagreement with his friend and doubles partner, David Warren.
“I kicked up a fuss because I am a fifth-year and my body is breaking down,” Bennett said.
Warren interjected with a laugh, claiming Bennett had no grounds to argue.
“He’s smaller than me though,” Warren said, referring to Bennett’s 5-foot-11 frame in comparison to his own 6-foot-3 height.
This describes what Warren has come to refer to as a “mini-marriage” between him and Bennett. Like a compatible marriage, the two complement each other, both in play styles and in personality. While Warren said he prides himself on his composure during matches, Bennett is best known for his enthusiasm and yelling on the court, used to motivate his teammates and intimidate his opponents.
“We have certain styles that complement each other, I think,” Warren said. “He’s really good from the baseline, which can help set me up at the net. He’s super fired up and his energy carries onto me as well. Those intangibles really make a big difference.”
Bennett said his intensity helps to further motivate Warren and the rest of the team during both doubles and singles play.
“I don’t have too much shame when it comes down to it,” Bennett said. “I don’t mind embarrassing myself slightly. I know I’m acting a little bit like a fool but if it helps us get going, I honestly don’t mind taking that role on.”
Bennett and Warren both agree doubles is almost a completely different game from singles and that allows them to thrive. Their coaches paired them together during the 2013-14 season due to the friendship that had quickly grown between them. However, Warren said the pair has not always had success.
“Freshman year, we didn’t play well together at all,” Warren said. “I think we maybe played over 10 doubles matches together at the No. 1 spot. The coaches split us up and didn’t want to put us together [the] next year.”
Bennett redshirted the following year due to injury, but as their junior years rolled around, they were once again placed together. This time, the pair found success and reached the NCAA Doubles Championship Tournament, losing in the first round. Warren reflects on their coach Efe Ustundag’s decision to pair them together again as a turning point.
“As some of the guys started graduating, it made sense to try us together one more time, Warren said. “It was midway through last season, we just started clicking together. We won a couple of really good matches and got this momentum that carried well through last year and the NCAA tournament as well.”
Now, as they finish off their final years of tennis at Rice, the two have their eyes on the NCAA Doubles Championship again. They are currently ranked the No. 28 doubles pair in the country, though they were as high as No. 11 earlier in the year. They have compiled a 13-7 record this year and were seeking an automatic All-American bid by placing in the top 8 in the country, a quest that was recently derailed by a string of losses. However, they could still achieve the All-American quest by a top-eight finish in the tournament — redemption after their first round loss last year.
To reach the highest stage in doubles college tennis, Bennett said the duo focused on the closeness and friendship required to succeed — the same friendship that paired them as partners in the first place.
“When times get tough in the doubles, it’s really easy to stop communicating,” Bennett said. “It’s nice when we play that when I’m angry at him I can let him know and he doesn’t take it personally and react and vice versa. If I’m slacking, he can tell me pick it up and I’m not going to get butthurt about it.”
Looking forward post-graduation, Bennett plans to return to his home country of England to compete in professional tennis matches. Later, he plans to go into consulting. Warren has finished his four years of tennis eligibility but will be staying at Rice for another year to complete his chemical engineering degree and then plans on working in the energy sector.
For now, Bennett and Warren go into the Conference USA tournament focused on their team’s success. They must wait until May for the chance to end their college careers as one of the best doubles teams in the nation. For Warren, the strength of their doubles pairing is heavily built on a simple love of the game.
“It’s important not to overlook how well wae get along o the court versus on the court,” Warren said. “[We are] able to just be good friends and enjoy our time out there and figure out ways to solve problems.”