Not something you see in tennis often, American Ulises Blanch, who trains at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, had to lose a round before winning his first career title at the ATP Challenger level.
Entering the event in Perugia, Italy, two weeks ago at No. 508 on the ATP rankings, Blanch lost in the final round of the qualifying, but then made the main draw as a “lucky loser” when a player withdrew from the main draw.
“It’s pretty crazy how lucky I was,” Blanch said.
Luck got the former world No. 2 junior into the main draw, but skill saw the 20-year-old blast his way to the title without dropping a set. Among his victims were former Top 10er Nicolas Almagro, and in the final celebrated former junior claycourter and Italian home favorite Gianluigi Quinzi 7-5, 6-2.
In his final qualifying match Blanch had retired from the heat with full body cramps, but miraculously recovered to steam through the main draw.
“I’m speechless,” he said. “I have no words. It’s different from anything I’ve ever felt. It’s the biggest title I’ve ever won. To win it in my first main draw was unbelievable. I was just trying to enjoy it. There are no words to describe it.”
The result propelled Blanch 200 spots in the ATP rankings, from 508 to No. 308, joining fellow young Americans who have won on the ITF/Pro Circuit this year in Taylor Fritz (Newport Beach) and Reilly Opelka (Bordeaux).
While living in Orlando and training at the USTA National Campus, Blanch is a citizen of the world. He was born in Puerto Rico, and his family moved to Seattle when he was three days old. His father’s job has taken him to residences in China, India, Thailand, and Argentina where his tennis game blossomed.
“I started playing tennis in Thailand when I was five,” Blanch said. “I was playing soccer all day and my dad wanted me to try other things, like swimming and tennis. For the first 2-3 years I didn’t like tennis at all, until I started playing better. I was usually hitting with older kids and coaches in Thailand, so I really improved when I went to Argentina. It was a completely different story there.”
The 20-year-old says training with Ivan Lendl at the USTA National Campus has helped him with his shot selection and work ethic.
Blanch improved to 2-2 in ITF career finals, while Quinzi dropped to 13-5 career, his first loss this year in five finals.