Who is Darwin Blanch? The 16-year-old playing Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Open today

Darwin Blanch, 16, ahead of facing the 37-year-old Rafael Nadal in the first round of the Madrid Open  (Getty Images)
Darwin Blanch, 16, ahead of facing the 37-year-old Rafael Nadal in the first round of the Madrid Open (Getty Images)

Darwin Blanch was speechless when the draw for the Madrid Open was made and his first-round opponent was revealed.

The 16-year-old American, ranked just outside the top 1,000 in the world, is making just his second appearance at a major ATP Tour event after receiving a wildcard to the main draw.

There, Blanch will play none other than 22-time grand slam champion Rafael Nadal, the ‘King of Clay’ and a living legend in the Spanish capital. Born in September 2007, Blanch’s reaction to drawing Nadal was in itself incredibly Gen-Z: “guys I play nadal wtf”, Blanch posted on his Snapchat. One of Blanch’s friends took a screenshot, and it went viral from there.

Nadal was already a three-time grand slam champion when Blanch was born; he was less than a year old when Nadal defeated Roger Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final, in arguably the greatest tennis match of all time.

In Madrid, where the 37-year-old Nadal may be playing for the final time, Blanch will face an icon of the sport in just his second match of the professional tour: “I’m really excited, obviously a little bit nervous,” he said. “But I’m just really happy to be playing against Rafa. I’m ready to go out and just enjoy every moment.”

Blanch has an interesting backstory, one he describes as a “wild journey”. Born in Florida, he grew up in Thailand and Argentina and now lives and trains in Spain. Already 6’ 2” in height, the teenager speaks English, Spanish, Chinese and Thai.

Blanch moved to Thailand when he was just one-week-old due to his dad’s work. He lived there until he was eight, growing up playing tennis in his backyard with his brothers, who are also now tennis players. He continued training after moving to South America, before relocating back to the country of his birth at the United States Training Academy in Orlando. After that, he moved to the Ferrero Tennis Academy in Alicante, where he has trained with two-time grand slam champion Carlos Alcaraz, who offered Blanch some advice ahead of his meeting with Nadal.

“I’ve practised with him a few times in the academy,” Alcaraz said. “I know that he has good tennis. He plays very well for his age. I told him just to enjoy the moment [against Nadal]. This moment is going to be really helpful to his career.”

Blanch finished 2023 as the ninth-ranked junior in the world (he reached the semi-finals of the Wimbledon boy’s singles last year) before receiving a wildcard for the Miami Open, where he played Thomas Machac in the opening round.

But the Madrid Open draw handed Blanch the opportunity of a lifetime and a victory against Nadal would instantly become one of the biggest shocks in the history of the sport.