The advice that Alcaraz gave to Blanch to face Nadal in Madrid

The 16-year-old American will debut in Madrid this week

April 23, 2024

Mike Lawrence/ATP Tour

Darwin Blanch will debut at the Mutua Madrid Open against Rafael Nadal, on Thursday at the Caja Mágica.
By Andy West

Born in Boca Raton, Florida, and now living in Spain (after doing so in Thailand, Argentina and a second stint in the United States), Darwin Blanch has covered quite a bit of ground in his young life.

On Thursday, the #NextGenATP American’s travels will take him to a place he may not have thought he’d visit as he began hitting a tennis ball with his brothers in his backyard. He will clash in the first round with ATP Tour legend and local favorite Rafael Nadal at the Mutua Madrid Open.

“I’m very excited, obviously a little nervous,” Blanch, 16, told on Tuesday in the Spanish capital. “But I am very happy to play against Rafa. “I’m ready to go out and enjoy every moment.”

It will be the second ATP Masters 1000 appearance in the space of five weeks for the southpaw, who made his tour debut at home as a wild card against Tomas Machac at the Miami Open presented by Itaú. While the American won’t enjoy local support this time around when he takes to the big stage, he is ready to test himself against a sporting icon.

“I know there will be a lot of people and they will be against me,” Blanch said of his first Lexus ATP Head2Head clash against Nadal. “Obviously, Miami helped me a little bit [a acostumbrarme al gran escenario]but I’ve always liked playing with a crowd and I’ve always enjoyed it.”

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Blanch has already lived in four countries. The teenager, who is 190cm tall, speaks English, Spanish, Chinese and Thai.

“I was born in Boca, but when I was a week old I moved to Thailand for my dad’s job,” Blanch explained. “So I trained there until I was eight, on a tennis court in my backyard. “I practiced there with my brothers.”

“We brought a coach from Argentina and I finally moved to Argentina. I trained there for four years, and then I went to the USTA [en Orlando]and finally to the Ferrero academy [en Alicante]. “So it’s been a wild ride.”

Now trained by Francisco Penalva, Blanch has surprised even himself at the speed of his improvement in recent years. He finished 2023 ranked as the ninth best junior in the world and is currently part of the ATP’s Next Gen Accelerator Program.

“We started to see my level once I got to the USTA in Orlando,” he recalled. “I started doing very, very well, the best of my tennis career. Now in [la academia Ferrero] they have helped me alot. “I’ve gotten progressively better and it’s amazing to see how much I’ve improved recently.”

Carlos Alcaraz agrees with Blanch’s self-assessment. The PIF ATP Rankings No. 3 was impressed while hitting the teenager in Alicante and believes facing 92-time tour champion Nadal in Madrid will only help his development.

“I have practiced with him several times at the academy,” said Alcaraz, who faced Nadal for the first time on his 18th birthday in Madrid. “I know he has good tennis. He plays very well for his age. I told him to just enjoy the moment. [contra Nadal]”.

“This moment will be of great help for his career. It was very important for me when I faced [Nadal] in 2021 for the first time. I learned a lot from that game and living that experience was a great help. It’s just about trying to enjoy the moment and giving yourself the opportunity to gain experience.”

Blanch, who likes to play video games and listen to music (“anything but rock music”) in his free time, has always idolized world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. However, he grew up with three tennis role models closer to home: his brothers Ulises Blanch and Dalí Blanch, as well as his sister Krystal Blanch, all three of whom are tennis players.

“My two older brothers have passed on a lot of experience to me,” said Blanch, when asked what Ulysses and Dalí had taught him about breaking into men’s tennis. “It’s obviously helped a lot. He helped me a lot as a younger brother. So, I try to take everything they tell me and try to fit it into myself.”


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