James Blake had an emotional press conference Monday morning where he announced his retirement from men’s tennis following this year’s US Open.
Blake turned pro in 1999 following his one year collegiate career at Harvard University where he was the #1 ranked collegiate singles player. As his career began to rise, James had a catastrophic injury in 2003 while he was practicing in Rome. He was running for a drop shot when he tripped on the clay and went head first into the metal net pole. Blake had a broken neck and was also diagnosed with shingles during surgery. Most players would have never played tennis again. But the recovery of Blake is one of the most inspirational stories for all tennis players. The recovery process was long and strenous, but with the support of his family and friends, he made an incredible comeback. Blake’s passion for the game was fueled by 2 people, his idol Arthur Ashe, and his father. James heard Ashe speak at his school when he was a child and that inspired him to pick up tennis. His father was the driving force behind Blake’s career. Even when James’ dad died of cancer in 2004, his spirit kept Blake moving forward in his career.
It had been many years since Blake had played on tour due to his injury when he played the 2005 US Open. It was at his home slam that his name will forever be remembered. James’ ranking was very low, but he was granted a wild card by the USTA. He was scheduled to play former finalist Greg Rudeski in the first round. After Blake upset him, he defeated Igor Andreev in the second round. His third round was against number 2 seed and 18 year old phenom, Rafael Nadal. Considered a heavy underdog, James pulled off what I still consider to be the best win of his career as he beat Rafa in four sets. Following his fourth round win over Robredo, Blake set up the quarterfinal showdown with Andre Agassi, one of his idols and friends. I consider this match to be one of the best in US Open and maybe even Grand Slam history. The shotmaking and athleticism was incredible. Agassi ended up coming back from 2 sets to love down and best James in a fifth set tiebreaker. But as Andre said, “the real winner was tennis that night, not myself”.
Following that breakout tournament, James went on to win 10 singles titles, 7 doubles titles, and was a key piece in the US Davis Cup victory in 2007. Blake also was a finalist in the Shanghai Masters in 2006 and reached a high of #4 in the world. He had all these accomplishments on the court, but one of the most important features about James was his personality off the court. Considered to be one of the nicest players on tour, he won the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award in 2006 for his work in fundraising for cancer prevention.
As for what James means to me, he has always been my favorite player and someone that I have always looked up to. His adversity through life and classiness off the court is something everyone should take into account. Even when coaches tried to change his game, he stuck with what he knew, and it definitely worked out for him. He was never afraid to go for the big shot and that is something everyone needs to learn how to do in pressure moments. Hit through the pressure and not crack down on it. Blake made the most of a career that could have been something much quicker and injury filled. The best thing about this retirement is that he is retiring on his own terms. I am glad his knee injuries in the past did not force him to retire and he can play his last tournament so close to home in New York. When I go to the open this weekend, I hope to see him in singles or doubles. James plays Ivo Karlovic in the first round of singles and plays the number 2 seed Peya/Suares in doubles with Jack Sock. Fire it up one time, bam! Go James go!