The Creation of a Rising Star
Sep 20, 2023
Let's imagine we're creating a path for a junior tennis player to reach elite status on the ATP Tour. The road might look something like this:
- He starts taking lessons at age 6.
- His coach has produced at least one player who has become No. 1 in the world; five or more is even better.
- He has older siblings who have reached the pro circuit, all the better for him to see what works and what doesn't.
- He's a student of the game, taking notes, studying players on the practice court and the Tennis Channel
- His dad is very supportive but not overbearing.
- He's athletic and is going to be tall but not too tall, maybe 6-foot-2.
- He's left-handed, which helps make his serve and forehand become nasty weapons.
- Oh, and he gets to hit sometimes with Carlos Alcaraz, the hottest player on the planet. And receives advice from Juan Carlos Ferrero, coach of Alcaraz.
What's interesting is that we're not making this up. It's not wishful thinking.
This is the story of 15-year-old Darwin Blanch.
Rick Macci, who coached Blanch during his formative years beginning at age 6, believes this native of Deerfield Beach is on course to becoming the next star on the ATP Tour.
Above: Darwin Blanch literally was a student of the game watching his sister Krystal and brother Dali at Macci's academy.
"Huge potential around the corner in pro tennis," says Macci, who coached five players who became top-ranked in the world - Venus and Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova, plus several others who won Grand Slam singles titles, including Sofia Kennin and Mary Pierce.
"He will have one of the best forehands and serves on the ATP tour in the near future. Everything is science based and wired correctly from age 6," Macci adds. " The muscle memory is brainwashed to optimize execution in sync so you do not have a technical flaw."
Last summer at age 14 Blanch became the youngest to win the USTA Boys 16s Nationals at Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was the fifth seed and won three consecutive three-set matches. In 2020 he won the USTA National Clay Court 14s, and the next year he was a finalist in the Junior Orange Bowl 14s.
Above: Darwin Blanch won the USTA National 16's last year at Kalamazoo, Michigan.
This summer he was a semifinalist at Junior Wimbledon. He also has won ITF Junior titles last year at Istanbul and this year at Porto Alegre.
"Darwin is one of my all-time favorite students," Macci said when I interviewed him in July at his academy at South County Regional Park in Boca Raton.
"Originally one of his brothers, Ulises, who was one of the top players in ITF, 2 or 3 in the world, came to me when he was 12, so Darwin was a little, little guy. And he had another brother, Dali. Both of these guys are now on the pro tour, and a sister, Krystal . The whole family I worked with, and their father, Ernesto, is a great friend, a great guy.
"They've been coming here since Darwin was 6 any chance they have before the Orange Bowl, before Nationals, before Christmas. Dali is represented by Edge Management, which I'm a part of."
Above: Rick Macci with young Darwin Blanch.
Darwin embraced everything about tennis at an early age.
"One of the things I noticed about Darwin is his love and enjoyment to play the game," Macci said. "Happy go lucky, always smiling, skipping around the court, bouncing. Even though he was a little cheeseburger and didn't know what was going on, he had a spirit about him.
"And the dad would always tell me, when Darwin wakes up in the morning at 4 or 5 o'clock, the first thing he does, he turns on Tennis Channel. And he watches Tennis Channel all the time. He doesn't watch anything else. Eats, drinks, breathes tennis. And he's writing stuff down, the tennis court was always his office. He analyzes stuff and he talks about it. He was almost like a mechanical engineer the way analyzing everything."
Macci added, "But what was very interesting about Darwin, back at that time my partner, Dr. Brian Gordon, who has a PhD in biomechanics, did his thesis on this stuff. We were pretty much cutting edge with stroke mechanics. We were way ahead of the time in describing what really is going on in the pro tour. You know, shorter stroke, faster racquet, the racquet's to the outside. The stroke was different because the game was getting faster.
"With Brian's science-based knowledge and my ability to explain it to the consumer in a way that's backed up by science, we were way ahead of the game when this first came out with the modern forehand. All I was, was the messenger, breaking down what was going to happen.
"And where that leads into Darwin, he got a lot of this fresh out of the oven when I was working with his brothers, but he got this stuff at age 5 and 6."
Macci lauded Ernesto Blanch, the dad, because to him development "was all about mechanics, because what happens, the cards that you're dealt as a youngster, whether it be the grip or the backswing, the overall mechanics you sometimes are dealt with the rest of your life. They might get a little better because you get bigger and stronger, or someone might make a modification. But I see the same mistake in players that I had at 10 and I see it on the pro tour at 25. It's that the hole is smaller but always bubbles up under pressure.
"Where you take Darwin, his forehand is all science based and he has amazing feel of the ball. So you take that combination, optimal racquet speed and a gift from above of feeling the ball, his forehand no doubt will be one of the best in pro tennis.
Above: Darwin Blanch hits a big forehand at the Junior French Open.
"That doesn't mean you're going to be a great player. I'm just saying that's one box that's checked that you don't have to worry about."
Macci next elaborated on Darwin's serve. At the beginning he had the boy on what he calls "probation."
"What I mean by that, I had his feet together, an abbreviated position," Macci said. "The leg drive would initiate the racquet speed. He was on probation for like four years because his jumping ability wasn't that great, but when I put the feet together and I explain this every time he would visit, it got better and better and better.
"And I always stressed to him, you're a lefty, serve to the forehand, not the backhand, because lefties usually have the can opener. They can usually slide it by, that's their bread and butter. At 15 he's serving at 130, he's hitting a frozen rope to the forehand and people don't even move. But that was baked in double crispy at age 6 years old. It's one thing to hit it hard, it's another thing to get it in. His serve, in my opinion, is so biomechanically sound." The most sound of any boy he has ever coached, Macci noted.
Above: Darwin Blanch serves at the Junior French Open.
"That's simply because he was little, there were no bad habits," Macci said. "It's like a piece of clay. I could mold it, he would listen, he would study, the dad would make him do it, and I had time. It's not like I'm working with a grown up on the pro tour, it's not like I've got to put Humpty Dumpty together real quick in a month. This was a little guy, so I could just bake it in.
"And that's a great lesson for any coach. It's not where you start, it's where you finish. It's junior development, not junior final destination. But with him, he was kind of like a dog being dragged behind, it was more about Ulisses and Bali and Kriytal. But I could see where that was going to go. Some day he was probably going to be 6-2, 6-3, a big kid, lefty."
Darwin uses both hands to hit his backhand, though Macci wishes he had developed a one-handed shot.
"It's so natural to play one-handed, but when you're little and the ball bounces up in your grill, it's difficult," Macci said. "His two-hander has gotten better. It's going to work, it's not a liability, but to this day I thought he should be one hand. He's a good athlete, good foot speed, but the serve and forehand are going to be two of the best shots in pro tennis.
"So when you're biomechanically that sound, it doesn't break down under pressure. And because he's a calm guy, he has a very calm demeanor, and a lot of that is environmental. As I told his dad, he's like Buddha. And what's really interesting, when you're the youngest, not only does the father learn what to do and what not to do, you kind of pass that along to the younger one. You learn maybe from mistakes, you see what not to do, who to trust, whatever."
And sometimes you learn from the 20-year-old who defeated Novak Djokovic in a five-set final at Wimbledon in July, Carlos Alcaraz.
"Darwin is in an amazing situation right now because he gets to practice now and then with Alcaraz," Macci said. "As I told Ernesto when he lost in Junior Wimbledon in the semis, slow and easy, just pick up all the things mental of being around Alcaraz. He's got to be himself because that guy (Alcaraz) is a whole different animal. Just being around that, how to carry yourself, the gratitude, appreciation, those are all things that really help you on the tennis court ...
"He goes to Juan Carlos Ferrero, that's where he's based out of in Spain. It's a great situation because of the Alcaraz effect. Just being around that, to me that's priceless. And the fact that he gets to practice in that environment."
Darwin Blanch truly is following a storybook path to the ATP Tour.
Witten by Florida Tennis Founder and Editor Jim Martz. This article also appears in the September-October 2023 issue of Florida Tennis Magazine. Be sure to subscribe for expanded coverage, exclusive interviews, and in-depth tennis news. Photos courtesy of the Blanch family and Rick Macci.