TERRE HAUTE —
For someone who got to play varsity tennis for only the last part of his high school athletic career, Brandon Blankenbaker has managed to do pretty well with the sport as an adult.
He attended Marshall (Ill.) High School for 31⁄2 years. Then he transferred to rival Casey for the spring of his senior year in 2000 because Casey offered tennis and Marshall didn’t.
Although Blankenbaker had played basketball and golf at Marshall, tennis turned into his true sports love.
He did gain experience in competitive tennis as a youngster, however. His father — Terre Haute South boys and girls tennis coach Bill Blankenbaker — had taken him to summer tournaments around Illinois, with his first occurring at the age of 8. Bill, an accomplished player himself, had started tossing tennis balls to Brandon when he was 2.
“He was a huge influence on me,” Brandon said of his dad, whom he later teamed with to place in the top 10 in national father-son doubles tournaments.
“He’s the main reason I’m playing tennis.”
The exposure Brandon received during the 2000 spring season at Casey caused colleges to offer him an athletic scholarship in return for his services on the court.
Getting an opportunity to play Nos. 1 and 2 singles and No. 1 doubles at Eastern Illinois University, he earned all-Ohio Valley Conference selections as a junior and senior.
After graduating from EIU with a degree in physical education in 2005, young Blankenbaker moved to Charleston, S.C., and became an assistant tennis pro at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
From there, he joined a team in the Charleston Pro Tennis League and helped it win the league title three times.
While on that team, he met a man who possessed a similar passion for tennis by the name of Matt Hane.
The Blankenbaker-Hane duo ended up playing No. 1 doubles for a team that won the 2007 U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) 5.5 national championship at Las Vegas.
But Blankenbaker and Hane weren’t done making a name for themselves in the racket-swinging sport.
In September 2012, they combined to capture the men’s 30-and-over doubles crown in the USTA grass-court national championships at Philadelphia.
Then on March 10-13 at Austin, Texas, they claimed the men’s 30-and-over doubles title in the hard-court national championships.
Each received a Gold Ball for his effort.
“It’s pretty cool,” Blankenbaker admitted about the national recognition. “Growing up, I didn’t play many national tennis tournaments because I was so focused on other sports.”
Now Blankenbaker, 31, and Hane, 30, make up the No. 1-ranked men’s 30-and-over doubles team in the nation, according to the USTA. Blankenbaker said they’ve defeated players who have competed on the ATP Tour.
Blankenbaker credits much of the success he’s enjoyed in doubles tennis to his partner.
“Matt’s more of a power player and I’m more of a finesse player,” he mentioned. “He likes the baseline and I like the net. He likes to rip groundstrokes. …
“We actually met eight years ago in the Charleston Pro League and we’ve been really good friends ever since. We get along great and we’re both super laid-back on the court.”
Single with no children, Brandon — at least for now — has enough time and opportunity to continue competing around the country and someday around the world.
Regarding his job at the resort, Brandon said it couldn’t get much better. That’s been especially true since his younger brother Ryan — a former Illinois high school slam-dunk champion in basketball — also has worked there for the past six years.
“I teach lessons to people from all over the world — from ages 3 to 90-something,” Brandon explained. “The past two weeks, I’ve been out there doing it for 10 hours a day. We have busy times and we have slow times.”
Meanwhile, his parents Bill and Janice Blankenbaker still live in Casey and Brandon can’t help but occasionally think back on his and Ryan’s formative years in tennis growing up in Clark County.
“We were really the only four who played serious tennis in Marshall,” he recalled with a chuckle.