Getting to know:
Ashley Marshall | March 22, 2019
Big-hitting American Ulises Blanch broke into the Top 300 earlier this year, and he currently sits at a career-best No. 295 in the ATP Rankings.
The oldest of four children, Blanch had a less-than-traditional tennis upbringing, as he was born in San Juan, P.R., moved to Seattle, Wash., when he was three days old and then lived in Asia and South America, all before his 16th birthday.
His father Ernesto took a job in Thailand with Coca-Cola when Ulises was 4 years old, and that is where the now-20-year-old first learned tennis.
Having grown up on hard courts, Blanch (pictured above) moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a teenager, where he started building the foundation for a strong clay-court game. Today, Blanch is the rare rising American who has the all-court game for any surface.
USTA.com caught up Blanch, who now trains at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla.ADVERTISEMENT
USTA.com: How’d you evaluate the first three months of the season?
Ulises Blanch: I’ve been here in Orlando ever since preseason in December. My coaches and I have been working on something very specific about my game and about paying attention to little details and things that I can control. We’ve been pretty big on that, so from the practice standpoint, it’s been great. I think we’ve been working well, and it’s been getting a lot better, and I think my level has gotten better. I’m playing great, and I’m pretty happy with how it’s been going.
USTA.com: What are the specifics of what you’re working on in Orlando?
Ulises Blanch: Shot selection is one of the big ones, just trying to make the right decisions at the right time. You don’t always execute the way you want, but if you decide the right strategy you’re supposed to play, the chances are you’ll make more than you miss. Another one is within myself, controlling my emotions and trying to stay as level-headed as possible so that you make good decisions.
USTA.com: Moving so many times as a child, is it accurate to say you haven’t had the traditional tennis journey of a lot of young, talented American players?
Ulises Blanch: Obviously, it’s not normal, but I’m very grateful in a way because I was able to learn a lot of things about different places at a very young age, and I think that helped me with my tennis later on, with all the traveling and having to adapt and all of that. It was different, but it really helped me. I lived in India and China, I lived for a brief moment in Seattle, then I mostly grew up in Thailand, and then I was in Argentina until last year. I started playing tennis in Thailand. I lived in Thailand from age 4 to 13, and I started playing tennis when I was 5 years old.
USTA.com: Was there ever a point where it was hard to identify as an American because you spent so much of your formative years living overseas?
Ulises Blanch: Not really. Ever since I can remember, my dad—he’s American—he always enforced American values, American holidays and, on top of that, I went to American schools my whole life, so I was around American curriculums and American friends. Maybe I wasn’t the big basketball or football type, but I did consider myself an American since I can remember.
USTA.com: How did growing up in all these diverse countries help you as a youngster, being exposed to all these different cultures from a young age?
Ulises Blanch: I think you’re knowledgeable about how things are different, how things vary from Asia to how life is in the States, how different the States is to South America, how to treat people. You learn a lot about the world. And you see it in tennis, too. People play different, tennis-wise, all over. It helped with knowledge and helped with maturing and traveling at a young age and switch it up all the time, and that helped me adapt to different situations. Obviously, now with all the traveling in pros, that’s a big factor.
USTA.com: How did you come to find yourself working with the USTA and its Player Development department?
Ulises Blanch: I actually went to the USTA for the first time when I was 15, but it was very on and off. I’d go pretty seldomly. Then, when I ended juniors, I felt like I needed a change from what I was doing in Argentina. I sat down with my dad, and we decided that coming to the USTA was the best option.
USTA.com: What’s the biggest difference between Buenos Aires and Orlando, in terms of the culture and what you learn in your game?
Ulises Blanch: For the five years I lived in Argentina, I didn’t play on hard courts ever, maybe only five or seven days before I’d play a hard-court tournament somewhere. But you play on clay all the time, and you play people who know how to play on clay. It’s a different game style, a different mindset; even the way they practice is different. Here, you play on way more hard courts, and you play guys who grew up with way bigger serves. They’re bigger hitters than they are over there. It’s different, the types of players you play and the types of conditions you train in.
USTA.com: Has that helped, now that you feel like you have a well-rounded clay-court and hard-court game?
Ulises Blanch: For sure. I feel luckily very comfortable on both. When I played in Thailand, I played on hard, then obviously Argentina, I was on clay. My game adapts well to any surface I play on, and I think that’s really helped me because most players feel way more comfortable on one over the other, but I feel fine wherever I go.
USTA.com: How would you describe your style of play and your strengths?
Ulises Blanch: My best shots are my serve and forehand. I think I’m a pretty big hitter. I can hit heavy and from the back, and I don’t feel like I have any huge weaknesses in my shots. I’m a powerful player, and I try to overpower my opponent with my serve and forehand.
USTA.com: Does it feel like your game is maybe more suited to a fast grass court rather than either clay or hard?
Ulises Blanch: I agree. The few times I’ve played on grass at Wimby [Wimbledon] in the juniors, I’ve played unbelievable, but I’d never played on it. I haven’t played on grass since then, but I felt really good on it.
USTA.com: That deep run at Wimbledon in 2016, when you made the semifinals of the boys’ singles and doubles, what did you take most from that experience?
Ulises Blanch: I think the place where you’re playing. It’s Wimbledon, you’re playing on grass, everyone is wearing white. It was the experience that you can feed off of as motivation and all that. Just an unbelievable experience.
USTA.com: You won your first ATP Challenger title in Perugia, Italy, last summer. What do you remember most about that?
Ulises Blanch: The biggest thing that hit me was that I pulled out in the qualies, last round [after splitting the first two sets against Pol Toledo Bague] because I was about to have a full body cramp. I remember going into the locker room with my coach after pulling out, and I remember being absolutely enraged and disappointed because I told him I was playing great and that I feel kinda cheated because my body let me down.
I said I was never going to put myself in a position where I can get this opportunity, and then, like 30 minutes later, I was going back to my hotel, and I got a notification that I had got in as a lucky loser. I really remember the moment where I told him that I’d never get a chance, and I got it 30 minutes later.
USTA.com: Did that change your mindset going forward, where you maybe put more emphasis on your health and fitness so that you always gave yourself the best chance of success?
Ulises Blanch: One hundred percent. What I learned is that your moments and your chances don’t happen all the time, but when they do, you have to be ready to take them. I’m not really a patient guy, and I think one of my problems up until then was that I wanted to do well always, and that’s pretty unrealistic, and you just have to be ready for your moment. And obviously being solid physically and improving physically and mentally is a big part of that. I’ve been working pretty hard on that.
USTA.com: Looking at your schedule going forward, what’s on the calendar?
Ulises Blanch: I’ll be in Orlando for four weeks. I’ll do a mini training block, going heavy on the fitness. Then I’ll play the Sarasota Challenger on clay here in Florida. Then I think it’s Tallahassee and Savannah, and then I’ll go to Europe.
USTA.com: Growing up with three younger siblings who play tennis, what was that like? Any competition between you?
Ulises Blanch: There’s not much competition because I’m a little older than them. Dali is 16, Krystal is 14, and my younger brother [Darwin] is 12. I’m five years older than Dali, so I never really competed with him. But it’s been really healthy, in general. My dad and I have worked with them a lot, and I’ve worked with him a lot to help them out with their tennis. I speak with my brother, who’s a little older now, and I try to help him out and guide him as much as possible. I don’t think there’s much competition; I think it’s really healthy togetherness.
They take it extremely seriously. Everyone is really, really into it. I think they’ve actually been more serious about it from a younger age than I was. Since I was the first child, my dad wasn’t too sure, but when they came, he went hard with them since they were young.
USTA.com: What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give them?
Ulises Blanch: I think the biggest thing for me that I can tell them is that as long as you want to be a tennis player, as long as you want to keep playing tennis, you have to keep on going. There have been tough moments when I was traveling alone, that I think that if I wouldn’t have been so sure about what I wanted to do and be a tennis player, I don’t know if I would have been able to withstand those moments. What I can tell them is that if they’re really sure about this, they have to stick with it and pull through, no matter what and no matter how tough. You have to keep on going.