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June 8, 2012 08:59 AM
EdwardBenavidez_(2)“Dream Big.”  That’s how the USTA promotes its US Open National Playoff competition.

First stop for Big Dreamers is a single-elimination Sectional tournament. Entrants have to win that and then keep moving until they reach Flushing Meadow.  Anyone may enter. One male and female singles and a mixed doubles team will make it out of several hundred who take part. Judge Edward Benavidez, who presides at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court when he isn’t on a tennis court, dreamed XXXL. One of three players from New Mexico, Benavidez last month traveled to Scottsdale to start the process. He is a 3.5 who three years ago returned to tennis after a 30-year layoff.  Oh, one more thing: He will be 50 years old in August.
Q:  What did you expect to get out of this adventure?
A:  [Laughs].  I was going to play Nadal in the men’s final.
Q:  What did your friends say when you told them of your plans?
A:  They told me don’t do it.  My wife thought I was crazy.
Q:  Were they right?
A:  Well, I played a college guy from Littleton, Colo., and I lost 6-0, 6-3, in the first round. (According to the Internet, Michael Lemar is 27 and played club tennis at the University of Colorado, Boulder).
Q:  Considering everything, your one-and-done seems respectable.
A:  I wanted to hang in there and win one game.  I was close to winning one in the first set. In the second I started to go for my shots.  He was getting upset and yelling at himself and suddenly it was 3-3.  Then I guess he settled down.  I was happy to get in that match. 
Q:  What did the trip do for you?
A:  It helped my confidence a lot. I entered the New Mexico Open a week later and reached the finals of the 3.5 singles.  I had never been in the finals of anything.
Q:  You don’t have tennis pedigree, I’m guessing.
A:  I started playing as a ninth grader at Cobre High School in Bayard, New Mexico.  The basketball coach also coached tennis and he thought I ought to try it. I had never played before. I bought a Wilson T-2000. All I had was a serve.  I was self-taught. The basketball coach didn’t really know anything about tennis. So I just went out and played.  I made it to the state tournament once, my junior year. In the first round I drew Tony Richey of Albuquerque Academy.
Q:  Uh-oh.
A:  Yeah. He beat me 6-1, 6-4.
Q:  Did you play after high school? 
A:  No. I went to New Mexico State and then to law school in Michigan and then started working. No tennis at all.  Then I worked for the DA’s office in Los Lunas as a prosecutor and in private practice. In 2008 I was elected. And then I was retained for another four years. 
Q:  How did you come back to tennis after so long away?
A:  My stepdaughter Shade Hannum had started to play.  She learned the game from Tres Jones at ACC.  She really came along.  Next year she is going to Coe College in Iowa and she’ll play tennis there. Tres kept pushing me to play.
Q:  Did you take lessons?
A:  I told Tres I didn’t have time.  He kept after me and I said OK, but it would have be at 5 a.m.  My court days start at 8. We finally agreed on 5:45 a.m.  Some mornings we had to turn the lights on.
Q:  And your game improved?
A:  It did.  I never had ground strokes but now I can hit topspin.  I developed a kick serve.  Tres wants me to hit that kick serve and then rush the net.
Q:  Will you do the US. Open Playoff again?
A:  I want to. My wife’s still in shock I won three games. 
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