Who is Darwin Blanch, the 16-year-old US star playing Rafael Nadal in Madrid?

Darwin Blanch
Darwin Blanch will take on Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Open

Rafael Nadal will face an opponent unfamiliar to most as he returns to another home tournament at the Madrid Open.

At 37 years of age, Nadal is more experienced than most but the gulf between him and his upcoming opponent, Darwin Blanch, is huge.

Born in September 2007, Florida native Blanch is 21 years younger than his Spanish opponent in Madrid and will look to demonstrate what he can do against one of the best players in tennis history.

But who exactly is Blanch, who will become the name on everyone’s lips over the coming days?

Junior star

Those who follow junior tennis will have been familiar with Blanch for a while, with the American having achieved significant success on the youth circuit.

Aged 14, he won the USTA U-16 title in August 2022 – beating players up to two years older than him on his way to claiming that title.

And in 2023 he made his mark at the junior Grand Slams, reaching back-to-back semi-finals at the French Open and Wimbledon last summer.

He also joined Maxwell Exsted and Jagger Leach – the son of Lindsay Davenport – in representing the US in the Junior Davis Cup last year, helping guide his nation to third place in the competition.

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Spanish connection

Blanch is no stranger to playing in Spain or hitting with Spanish players.

He trains at the Juan Carlos Ferrero Academy in Alicante, now widely considered one of the best tennis academies not only in Spain, but across the whole of Europe.

Because of that, Blanch has spent some time guided by Ferrero, with the former world No 1 and French Open champion taking an active role in overseeing the running of his academy.

And – thanks to Ferrero’s partnership with Carlos Alcaraz – Blanch has hit with the world No 3 previously.

Unfortunately for Alcaraz, it was Blanch he was hitting with when he injured himself at the beginning of 2023, forcing his withdrawal from the Australian Open.

Early ATP milestone

Blanch can still play junior tournaments for another 18 months, but that hasn’t stopped him from hitting significant milestones on the ATP Tour already.

In February 2022 – when he was just 14 years old – he defeated Gerald Planelles at an ITF event in Villena, picking up his first ATP point.

At 14 years and five months, that made him the second-youngest player in history to pick up an ATP ranking point, with Nicolás Álvarez Varona just two months younger when he picked up his first point in 2015.

Recent Tour debut

Blanch has received a Wildcard into the Madrid main draw, and this is not the first time he has played on such a stage.

The 16-year-old made his ATP-level debut just a few weeks ago, at his home tournament in Miami.

Blanch did not come away with victory in a 6-4, 6-2 loss to rising Czech ace Tomas Machac, but certainly showed huge potential in an encouraging opening tour match.

The odds are definitely against him in this upcoming encounter against Nadal – who had won three French Open titles before the US star was born.

But expect Blanch to embrace the occasion, and deliver a strong showing.

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