Voyage of the Beagle

Voyage ofthe Beagle

Darwin Blanch “understands the geometry of the court like it’s his living room.”

Darwin Blanch “understands the geometry of the court like it’s his living room.”

By Giri NathanMarch 22, 2024

Yung Darwin Blanch is growing up fast. / Associated Press

Yung Darwin Blanch is growing up fast. / Associated Press

Some old names returned to court this week. Simona Halep back after a shortened doping suspension, Kei Nishikori back after what feels like a century of injuries. Both out in the first round but both, for different reasons, happy to even be out there at all. Generally, though, tennis seems to belong to the kids these days. Iga and Carlitos just won in the desert; Djokovic fell early last week and is totally absent in Miami, freeing up the draw for the youth. And gazing even further out to the future, look at the unusual wild card in Miami granted to 16-year-old wunderkind Darwin Blanch, perhaps the most auspicious young name in American tennis right now. Blanch is not yet ranked inside the top 1000 on the ATP. A player that fresh and unproven might typically just get a wild card into qualifying, but he was granted entry straight into the main draw, which is either a testament to his rare talent, or a reminder that this tournament is owned and organized by IMG (the agency that represents Blanch), or both.

The truth is, he’s too good to need to rely on favor-trading. Blanch, who really does look like Ben Shelton if drawn from memory, already has a fine résumé to go with a worldly backstory. Darwin speaks four languages and spent his early childhood in Thailand, where his dad cleared out palm trees to put a tennis court in the backyard and hired a full-time instructor for the four Blanch siblings, all of whom developed into serious players. (Challenger tour connoisseurs might recognize oldest sibling Ulises, who reached a career-high No. 236 on the ATP.) Growing up, the Blanch kids made periodic trips to Florida to train with Rick Macci, who has helped coach a slew of American stars, including the Williams sisters, Andy Roddick, and Sofia Kenin. With respect to raw potential, Darwin, the youngest of the siblings, inspires the most awe. Macci has said that Darwin “understands the geometry of the court like it’s his living room,” that he will have one of the best forehands in pro tennis, and that he has the most biomechanically sound serve of any boy he’s ever coached. Macci has also written this very odd thing that I’m choosing to interpret as a high compliment: “The muscle memory is brainwashed to optimize execution in sync so you do not have a technical flaw.”

That hyperbole has been backed up by some stunning results to date. Darwin thrived as a junior, winning the prestigious under-16s at Kalamazoo as a 14-year-old in 2022. Earlier that same year he became the second-youngest player ever to win an ATP ranking point, by winning a match at the M15 in Villena, Spain. As he transitions into the pros, Blanch has already proved to be a popular hitting partner, getting in a session with Holger Rune this week in Miami and sparring regularly with Carlos Alcaraz at the Juan Carlos Ferrero Academy, where they both train. A 15-year-old Blanch was in fact the last person to hit with Alcaraz ahead of the 2023 Australian Open; Carlitos hurt himself going into the splits to retrieve a ball and had to pull out of the tournament, so feel free to blame that absence on Blanch’s too-good drop shot.

As the fifth-youngest player to ever appear in a Masters event, Blanch was predictably overmatched in his first-round match against Tomas Machac, the rapidly rising Czech ranked No. 60. The youngster, who had never played anyone ranked inside the top 200, handled himself well and had some cool flashes in the 6–4, 6–2 loss. It’s not all that hard to see the eventual vision. When I watched him play up close at the junior tournament in Roland-Garros last year I came away impressed: 6-foot-3 lefty, serve and forehand as punchy as Macci promised, a bit of lanky gawkiness that he’ll grow out of. He says his goal is to break into the top 500 this year. In American tennis circles, Blanch is already talked about with the hushed tones reserved for outright messiahs, a tone that has not been used for a few generations. We’ll see if he holds up—or if he lands in hot water, wilts, and needs an immediate ice bath. Is there a word for that?


The Hopper

—The USTA’s Lew Sherr talks tennis’s Premier Tour with L. Jon Wertheim. 

—Chris Eubanks has signed on as a clothing ambassador for J Lindeberg.

—The legendary Casa Magazines shop in New York City has been sold

—Tim Newcomb interviews Tommy Paul. 

—The self-described “Fifth Grand Slam” talks mushrooms and tennis with Giri Nathan.

—Aryna Sabalenka’s ex, Konstantin Koltsov, has died


—We recap the Liveball Invitational at Mission Hills, brought to you by Brain Dead and LVBL

—Joel Drucker’s history of the early days of Indian Wells. 

—Vicente Muñoz’s postcard from Phoenix