Miami Open teenage star was behind Carlos Alcaraz injury that forced Spaniard to miss Slam | Tennis | Sport

When 16-year-old Darwin Blanch was scheduled to play on the Hard Rock Stadium court in Miami, few recognised his name. The American was making his ATP Tour debut after receiving a wildcard and came up against Tomas Machac. Although Blanch has no experience on the pro circuit, he knows what it’s like to hit with one of the tour’s best – Carlos Alcaraz. And the teenager was even behind a practice session injury that forced Alcaraz out of last year’s Australian Open.

Blanch got his first taste of the ATP Tour on Wednesday as he lost to Machac 6-4 6-2 in the first round of the Miami Open. It was a valiant effort from the inexperienced wildcard, who has still never won a match at Challenger level and was thrown in the deep end when he made his ATP debut on the main stadium court.

While Blanch is a new face on the tour, he knows what it’s like to rub shoulders with top players as he trains at Juan Carlos Ferrero’s Equelite Academy in Alicante, Spain. The 16-year-old often acts as a practice partner for Alcaraz when the world No. 2 is back at his coach’s training centre, and he was even involved in a session that left Alcaraz injured.

The 20-year-old missed the 2023 Australian Open and only started his season in February after picking up a leg injury during his pre-season training block. At the time, Alcaraz was playing a practice set against a then-15-year-old Blanche in one of his last sessions before heading Down Under.

The world No. 2 tried to recover a ball hit by Blanch but felt something in his right thigh. Alcaraz was still able to continue but played through pain. And it emerged that he picked up a muscle injury, which ruled him out of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.

At the time, Alcaraz was the world No. 1 and had won the most recent Slam, the US Open at the end of 2022. He had also been forced to end his 2022 season early when he picked up an abdomen injury at the Paris Masters. And the new setback meant that he didn’t return to the tour until February.

“When I was at my best in preseason I picked up an injury through a chance, unnatural movement in training,” Alcaraz wrote on social media after the practice session with Blanch. “This time it’s the semimembranosus muscle in my right leg.

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