Posts Tagged ‘James Blake’

PostHeaderIcon James Blake On Life After A “Fulfilling” Career

(courtesy David Sweet Photo)

(courtesy David Sweet Photo)

“He’s the nicest American player we’ve had in years …” That was the comment from a friend upon hearing that I’d sat down for an interview with James Blake.

James has always been mentioned as one of the “nice guys” on tour: more often than not, as part of the rap against him in big match losses. But that’s also the thing that resonated with his many fans in an era of big egos and bad attitudes.

(courtesy David Sweet Photography)

(courtesy David Sweet Photography)

James retired in 2013 after a first-round loss to Ivo Karlovic at the US Open. In typical Blake fashion, it was a thrilling, five-set heartbreaker 6-7 (2), 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2). For many, this was the problem in rooting for Blake. Even with the immense talent he possessed (speed, smarts, and that killer forehand), James always seemed to fall short in his biggest matches.

One could also say that he did the best that he could with his talent, and left the game on his own terms. That’s pretty much James’ view of it all. He did what he loved, and now looks forward to whatever the future holds for him and his family.

I learned that and more in my sit-down with James before the evening session at the PowerShares Series in Sacramento. And yes, he really is that nice! Here are highlights from our sit-down.

How are you feeling after your win last night (in Salt Lake City)?

Feels good! It was close (though). The guy can still play. It’s pretty impressive.


John McEnroe congratulates James Blake on his Champions Shootout win at the net.

You’ve made quite a splash the PowerShares tour with successive finals and a title on your third try. Has coming on tour relit the competitive fire in you?

It’s fun to have some competitive atmosphere. I haven’t really been competitive – extremely competitive – besides a little bit on the golf course, here and there.

I haven’t had that real competitive nature where you’ve got fans, you’ve got pressure, and things like that in six months or so. So it funs to feel that again. That’s probably one of the biggest things I miss about being on tour.

So what don’t you miss from your days on the tour?

I don’t miss the travel. I don’t miss feeling sore every morning when I wake up. I don’t miss the absolute need for sleep so I can be absolutely prepared for every practice. There’s a long list of things I don’t miss.

But there’s a long list I do miss too. It’s something I loved doing, but I (also) love being home with my family right now. I can’t feel any better than I do about that.

What’s the first thing you did after the US Open and the Karlovic match?

The first thing I did was started feeling comfortable having a couple of beers with dinner, which was great… it was great to let loose, go to a BBQ with my buddies, and just be able to have a few beers and not feel bad about training, and how much it was gonna hurt in the morning.


(courtesty David Sweet Photo)

You didn’t last long in your retirement. Pete, as you know, took a long time to get back to tennis after his retirement. Why did you come back after only 5 months?

I always wanted to take a little time off. But I also feel like I’m getting a little antsy to try and do something. (I’d) like try to get into a different world like hedge funds or finance… or commentary, or do these exhibitions. But I was really excited to just have 4-5 months to just be with my family.

Have you been pushed into commentating? That seems to be the trend these days with popular players when they retire.

It’s fun. I just need to figure out what’s best for me. One of the biggest things I want now is a flexible schedule so I can be there for my kids. I don’t want to be doing something 30 weeks out of the year.

But if I could do something with a flexible schedule, I’d love to be part of a commentary team. I had a great time doing it last year with Bret Haber and Jim Courier. I’d like to do that again.


How is it being a dad?

It’s unbelievable. There’s nothing you can compare to it. I had so many ups and downs on the tour, but there’s nothing like the pressure when you’re one on one with your daughter and you’re the one responsible for her safety, and her food, and changing her, and getting her to sleep on time: everything like that.

Do you think you could have traveled with your family the way Roger has managed to do on tour?

I’m kind of glad I did it the way I did it. It was just at the end of my career. I was comfortable and it was the right time.

We had my daughter travel with me to Wimbledon last year, and down to Miami. For me it forces you to maximize every minute; because you know you have only so many hours in a day, so many hours you spend with her, so many hours you spend with your wife, and so many hours you need to spend on the court.

I found that when my wife and daughter were there I wasn’t sitting around the locker room playing cards with the guys. And I think Roger’s done an unbelievable job of it.


If you had to use one word to describe your career, what would that word be?

Fulfilling. I feel great about it. I did everything I possibly could.

So you don’t buy into the talk that you could have done more with your career? You’re happy with it?

Absolutely! Roger has won 17 Grand Slams and they say he could have won more. Rafa has won however many and they say he could have won more. Andy only won one Grand Slam – ONLY – and he should have won more.

Everyone has those few points they could have won, those few matches they could have won. But I also have a lot of first rounds I could have lost that I didn’t.

Every one of those matches (I lost), I was frustrated as heck that night. But the next day, I was able to sleep comfortably and get over it because I knew I did everything I could to prepare for it.  So to ask for anything more, in my opinion, is just greedy. I did the best I could.

Last question. You still have rankings points. Is there any temptation…?

No. None.

Not even for doubles if you were to get a wildcard?

I think it would be fun, but I also don’t think that I’m physically prepared for that. I’m prepared to come out here and play with these guys (on the PowerShares tour) one set at a time. But if I go out there competing with the big boys, I’d be hurting in a whole different way. Maybe if the New Haven tournament was still there for men, maybe I’d play…

And you’d have your “J-Block” there.

I still have a few friends there. But since then, most of them have gotten real jobs. So it might be a little tougher to get there. I’m sure I’d have a couple of fans out there and have some fun.

PostHeaderIcon Courier-Sampras-Blake: Burning Questions, Poignant Answers at the Champions Shootout


Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, and James Blake
(Sampras and Blake pics courtesy of David Sweet Photography)

At an event like the Champions Shootout in Sacramento, the most important aspect of the night isn’t always what it seems. Though we saw great tennis from Pete Sampras, James Blake, Jim Courier, and John McEnroe, it’s not necessarily the result of the tennis that matters.

(Results: James Blake beat John McEnroe 6-3 for his second PowerShares win in as many days.)

For most of the fans who braved the blustery winds and rain to see them, it’s the enduring interest in these iconic players, old and new, and what they have to say about today’s crop of icons-in-the-making.

Johnny Mac wasn’t in the most talkative of moods after the VIP hit with local players, so I focused my attentions on the other three guys. I had a few burning questions for each that I managed to get answered. I hope you enjoy their responses.

Jim Courier (courtesty David Sweet Photo)

Jim Courier

What is your take away from this latest Davis Cup experience in San Diego?

My take away is that I should’ve been a little bit more firm with Sam earlier in the week to really get him to play full throttle tennis. I made a mistake there in not really getting on him to play the way that he plays best.

Sam is not a great defensive player. And if I would have been as forceful as I was with him prior to the (Andy) Murray match, I think we would have been in much better shape. And we would have found ourselves in a fifth match.

But I love working with these guys. I make lots of mistakes. And that’s how I learn. Hopefully we’ll get more chances to help these guys win this thing. It’s been a great time for me. I really do enjoy those weeks even though they’re very stressful. I really do like them.

What you can’t control are injuries, and weather, and different things like that. But we do a pretty good job as a team I think, overall, of controlling most what we can control. But I can do a better job of getting out in front that going forward and I certainly won’t be shy about doing that.

So you don’t view that experience as a setback?

It’s a learning curve, you know. Athletes have to look forward. So you have to learn from what’s behind you, but you can’t dwell on it. You need to move forward.  So that’s what I’ll do from my perspective, and I’m hoping that’s what Sam’s doing too.

Magnus Norman has never been put into the “super coach” category, but what he did with Stan (Wawrinka) over the time they’ve worked together…

…and (Robin) Soderling. He’s two for two.

Yes. Do you think he’s been given short shrift by the tennis commentating community?

Not inside the belt. Inside the game he has immense respect as both a player and a coach. He’s a guy who was cut down in his prime by a hip injury, and he has done a terrific low-key job of getting the best out of his players so far. And he’ll continue to get opportunities to work with great players because of that.


Pete Sampras (courtesty David Sweet Photo)

Pete Sampras

Did you feel for Stan (Wawrinka) when he was struggling against Rafa to close out his win at the Australian Open?

I’ve been in that situation. With Rafa, you felt at some point he was gonna retire. It gets awkward, and the whole stadium carries that awkward feeling. I think Stan was a little anxious, and Rafa started playing better. The crowd got behind Rafa a little bit…

He managed to do it in the end. But Rafa was obviously in pain. Stan played well though. Up until that point he was outplaying him. Up a set and a break in control of the match.

What do you think would have happened if Rafa had taken that fourth set and the match went to a fifth?

<laughs> I don’t know…

Have you ever joked with Roger (Federer) about when he’s going to hang it up? Is that something you could even joke about with him?

NO! <laughing>

We had one conversation at Indian Wells, a few years back. We were talking about how much longer he might play and I said, “Aw you gotta a couple, 2  more years.” And he says, “I don’t know. I think Mirka wants me out there six more years.”

You know, Roger deserves the right to do whatever he wants. He could play another two days or six more years. But I tell ya, if he doesn’t feel like he’s as competitive…


James Blake (courtesty David Sweet Photo)

James Blake

You still have rankings points in the ATP system. If someone were to offer you a wildcard to play doubles at a US tournament, would you consider it? Is there any temptation?

None. I think it would be fun, but I just don’t think I’m physically prepared for it. I physically prepared for all my matches, and always did everything I could. At this stage (in my life) I’m not prepared. I’m prepared to come out and play with these guys one set at a time. But if I go out there competing with the big boys I’d be hurting in a whole different way.

(Stay tuned for my feature post on James and his post-tour life.)

PostHeaderIcon James Blake on a Roll as the Champions Shootout Comes to Sacramento

James Blake  (courtesy

James Blake

World-class men’s tennis returns to Northern California tonight with the Champions Shootout: the next stop on the PowerShares Series 12-city tour.  Featuring a roster of tennis icons and legends, the PowerShares Series combines the best of competitive tennis and fan appreciation in a condensed format that’s fun for both the players and fans alike.

The last PowerShares visit to the Bay Area saw Jim Courier, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, and Todd Martin battling it out for supremacy (and rankings points) in San Jose. This time around, Sacramento is the battleground. And stalwarts Courier and McEnroe are joined by Pete Sampras and series newcomer, James Blake.

McEnroe currently leads the rankings, followed by Courier and PowerShares newcomer Andy Roddick. Blake, however, is quietly making a run for the top spot after picking up his first PowerShares title with a 7-6 (5) win over McEnroe in Salt Lake City.

It’s hard to believe that Blake only just retired from the pro ranks this past fall at the ripe old age of 28. Hard to believe, maybe, but understandable given the toll that injuries have taken on his body over the years.

After struggling in qualifying rounds through most of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Blake made his official retirement announcement at the 2013 US Open, after a first-round loss to Ivo Karlovic.

With pro tennis seemingly behind him, Blake looked ready finally enjoy some quality time with his wife and young daughter. But the lure of competition proved too strong, so five months later he’s back on the courts: hitting blistering forehands as though he never left, and having a good time with his old friends.

Blake’s first outing in Denver ended in a finals loss to Andre Agassi. His second was another finals loss to his good buddy Roddick in Houston. The third time definitely proved to be the charm, however, with his win in Salt Lake City. At this rate, McEnroe had better watch his back in Sacramento!

The Champions Shootout begins at 3PM with a special “Play with the Pros” on-court hitting session with Sampras and Blake, followed by a second session featuring McEnroe and Courier at 4PM. Semifinal match play begins at 6PM, with the winners advancing to the finals immediately afterward.

Hope to see you there.

PostHeaderIcon Serena, Rafa, Prize Money & Broadcast Rights: 10 Final Thoughts (okay, 20) on a Pretty Terrific US Open

Andrew Ong/Philip Hall/

Andrew Ong/Philip Hall/

In this final piece on a tremendous US Open, there’s absolutely no way I can possibly distill my final thoughts into a manageable “10”. So without further ado, here are my 20 final thoughts on the US Open, starting with obscene amounts of prize money, and schizophrenic broadcast coverage.

1. I don’t want to begrudge athletes their just due for years of sacrifice and hard work, but you have to admit that there’s something obscene about players earning $3.6M ($2.6M + $1M bonus money) by winning seven matches when so many others involved with professional tennis make almost nothing for their efforts.

2. Something needs to be done about the schizophrenic broadcast coverage for the Open. With tennis competing for exposure against a myriad of other sports (and reality TV), it shouldn’t be this difficult for the average fan to find consistent match coverage. CBS had some, ESPN had some, ESPN2 had others, and Tennis Channel gets the leftovers. (DirecTV is in the mix too, but adding them makes my head spin even more.) If this issue is maddening for me, an extremely motivated viewer, just imagine what the lay fan isn’t watching…

3. After seven months away from the tour to tend to his battered knees, Rafa Nadal proved me wrong at this year’s US Open. He came back with a vengeance in 2013, pretty much running the table on every event he entered. His wins on clay, while not completely surprising, were still great for so much time away. But what many may not realize is that Rafa has swept the table for the hard court tournaments he entered, and is undefeated for the year on that surface.

Moreover, with wins at ALL of the Masters Series 1000 outdoor hard court tournaments (Indian Wells, Rogers Cup, and Cincinnati) in addition to the US Open, does John McEnroe’s exclamations of Nadal for GOAT sound less like the ranting of a madman?

4. No more quibbles! After winning a fifth US Open title, her 17th Major overall, Serena Williams is firmly in the “Greatest of All Time” conversation; second only to Steffi Graf in terms of pure domination.

5. Novak Djokovic lost another Slam final after winning a hard-fought semifinal. I realize that’s normal for many players given the limitations of the body, but these are the types of matches in which Novak used to excel. He’s still a great player, but am I the only one wondering about the long-term effects of his gluten-free diet?

6. Roger Federer’s name conjures many memories of past greatness. The reality, however, is that Father Time has finally caught up to his ability to win matches on talent alone. Depending on how draws open up, he may yet have one more Slam in him as one of the elder statesmen of the tour (see Marion Bartoli, 2013 Wimbledon champion). But I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

7. Andy Murray’s letdown after Wimbledon came to full bloom with his loss in the US Open quarterfinals. Stan Wawrinka certainly played a great match, but one should be able to expect more fight from the 2-time Slam titlist and defending champion.

8. Speaking of Wawrinka, how about that performance from Stan the Man to reach his first Slam semifinal? After years of playing second fiddle to Roger, and struggling with nerves at crucial moments in matches, he finally played his best tennis to reach the semis, and very nearly best Novak in five sets. Will 2014 be his breakout year?

9. Richard Gasquet was another first-timer at the US Open semifinal table. Often prone to lack of self-belief in big matches, he played masterful and gutsy tennis to take down David Ferrer in five sets. I’m not sure this will translate to more Slam success in 2014, but it was nice to see from a guy who’s foundation was started to “help adolescents who struggle to find their place in society and who suffer from a lack of confidence”.

10. I love Venus Williams, and love what she’s done for tennis. But I hate watching her struggle on court these days. Though it may be inspiring to see a person battle their autoimmune disorder so valiantly in the public spotlight, the reality is that her ranking is going to keep dropping with diminished play and diminished wins. There will come a point, possibly in 2014, when she’ll need wildcards to participate in tournaments she once dominated. What then?

11. Victoria Azarenka, while not playing near her best tennis, played a great match against Serena in the women’s final. More than any other woman currently in the game, Vika pushes Serena to play her best tennis on each point in every game of every set. When Serena falters even slightly, she’s there to take full advantage. I still have many issues with her use of her howl as a distraction for her opponents in tight match situations, but I’ve grown to have immense respect her competitive fight.

12. Many folks on Twitter stated that the women’s final between Serena and Vika was a great showcase for the WTA, women’s tennis, and equal prize money. At the risk of stirring the pot, there are few women other than Serena, Vika, and maybe Maria/Aga/Li, who could provide the type of drama that we saw in Sunday’s final.

13. Was anyone else as heartbroken as I was to see the Bryan brothers lose in their bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam on one day, followed by the uncomfortable loss of the Williams sisters in their semifinal the next day?

14. Kudos to the website, especially for the excellent quality streams of live matches. Now about that Android app and its’ many errors when not on Wi-Fi…

15. A note to most of the commentators that covered live matches for the television broadcasts: PLEASE STOP TALKING! Relevant facts are one thing, and stream of consciousness opinions are another. I won’t name names, but I think you know who you are. I’m sure there’s a way to provide color commentary without remarking about absolutely everything that happens on the court at every second. Kudos to Tracy, Virginia, Lindsay, Martina and Mary et al for consistently good analysis.

16. For all of the worries about American tennis, many may not realize that there are quite a few good players in the top 100 for both the men (5) and the women (10). The fact that there aren’t many “stars” in the bunch shouldn’t be our only criterion for the perceived successes or failures of our development efforts.

17. More than a decade later, the effect of the Williams sisters on African-American participation in tennis is apparent and undeniable (Stephens, Duval, Vickery, and Townsend to name a few). I just hope that everyone remembers that although many of them have promise to be excellent players, there’s only one Venus and Serena.

18. The Open dodged a bullet with the rain this year, but still tempted fate by scheduling first round matches for the men on Wednesday: three days into the start of the tournament. Can someone please tell me why, besides TV and money concerns, Andy Murray could potentially be sidetracked from his first-round match while many women have already completed their second-round match?

19. What do you want to bet that when the roof is finally built over Ashe (I’m not holding my breath), New York will be dry as a bone for the two weeks of the Open for years to come?

20. Goodbye James Blake, Jill Craybas, Nicholas Massu, and any others I might have missed.

I could go on, but you get the point.
See you all next year, hopefully from the grounds of the Billie Jean Kin National Tennis Center in New York!

PostHeaderIcon Blake’s Final Moment Brings Back My Own

Getty Images/AFP, Matthew Stockman

Getty Images/AFP, Matthew Stockman

First, it was Marion Bartoli who caused me to have flashbacks with her surprise retirement in Cincinnati. This time it was James Blake whose retirement announcement, and subsequent remarks after his loss, brought back the intense emotions that go hand in hand with a final career goodbye.

True to his typical US Open form, Blake lost a 5-set heartbreaker, 6-7 (2), 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2), to Ivo Karlovic in the first round. In his on-court speech with Mary Jo Fernandez after the match, Blake was quintessential Blake: humble, unassuming, and appreciative of not only the moment, but also what tennis and its’ fans had given him over the years.

“There are a lot of people here that supported me,” Blake said, “And it’s hitting me now that I’m never gonna have this again in my life, and I need to appreciate every single one of you for being here.”

The crowd gave him an extended ovation for the acknowledgement. He continued:

“That ovation makes me realize that everything I did, every bit of hard work, was worth it. To play in front of you guys, and to do this for 14 years… If I’d just been playing in my backyard it wouldn’t have meant anything. But to do it in front of you guys — I had so many highs and lows in front of you — it really means… it’ll never be forgotten.”

When Marion announced her retirement, I understood the reasons why she chose to step away because of similar feelings I had when making the decision to retire as a professional dancer.  The same was true as I listened to James on-court statement, particularly when he said “I’m never gonna have this again”.

Those words transported me to ’98, and my final dance performance. After the last piece of the night was over, we prepared for the final bow. Since I finished in the center, I initiated the bow sequence. I looked to my right at all the dancers with whom I’d created such special bonds, years of memories flooding my senses, and joined hands with the dancer on my right. The only thought I had was, “I’ll never see this again.”

I did the same with the dancers on my left, and proceeded forward for the bow. I looked out at the audience, many of whom were cheering loudly because they knew that it was my farewell performance, and bit my lip in a futile attempt to hold back the tears. It was a surreal mix of relief and loss that’s still with me to this day.

Like James, I’d practiced my profession for fourteen years; with many highs and lows along the way. Through it all, I knew that I could always count on the support of the audience. Their presence gave me, and my art, a sense of purpose. Through the good reviews and the bad, the injuries and the excitement, they helped me more than they will ever know.

Unlike me, James kept it together for his final moment. But I guess that doesn’t really matter, does it? What matters is the totality of the career you had while laying it all on the line in front of your fans. It’s an amazing (and overwhelming) feeling when you get to the end, and see it all in front of you… and then realize that you’ll never see it again.

PostHeaderIcon US Open Notes for Day One and Day Two, 8-28-13


James Blake and Vicky Duval courtesy

The first two days of this year’s US Open have been very busy, and VERY eventful. There’ve been retirements, upsets, bagels (without schmear), and even a little rain. We’ve had it all.  Here are a few thoughts on the first two days of action at the US Open.

Bye Bye Blake

James Blake pulled a “Roddick” and announced his retirement effective immediately at the end of his US Open campaign. While not wholly unexpected, it’s always sad to see the old guard step away from the game.  There are still a couple of them hanging on (Ginepri and Fish), but I can’t see either of them hanging around too much longer either.

More Goodbyes?

We’ve also said goodbye to Nicolas Massu and Jill Craybas… for now.

Too Many Carbs

Bagels were given out freely in the first round of play. Lauren Davis got a couple Carla Suarez Navarro, Francesca Schiavone got one from Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka gave out a couple to Dinah Pfizenmaier… heck, even Donald Young got in on the act and gave one to Martin Klizan. I love a good bagel as much as anyone else, but it’ll be interesting (and much more satisfying) to see how long it takes for matches to become competitive. (Note: Francesca should thank Serena for cutting back on the carbs, and giving her a bagel-breadstick combination instead of the double bagel.)

Missed Opportunities

Ernests Gulbis, Jerzy Janowicz, Vasek Pospisil, Grigor Dimitrov, and Kei Nishikori all fell in the first round of the Open. At least Jerzy could claim injury for his dismal result; not so with Gulbis and Dimitrov. I can’t say that Pospisil, Nishikori, or Dimitrov had great chances given their draws, but Gulbis and Janowicz both had excellent opportunities to come through a week quarter with David Ferrer [4] as the top seed. The talented Gulbis made lots of noise this year – off the courts – in criticizing other players. Maybe next year he’ll keep his mouth shut and make sure his game does the talking instead. #NobodyLikesABlowhard

Upset Extravaganza

Kei Nishikori was the first notable upset of the tournament when he lost to Daniel Evans of Great Britain. He hadn’t been playing well the past few weeks, so it wasn’t a complete shock to see his game sputter out. However, nobody could have imagined that Sam Stosur would crash out so spectacularly to the 17 year-old qualifier, Vicky Duval. I hate to say this, but it wasn’t completely a surprising end to her erratic hard court summer after losing in the first round of Stanford, winning Carlsbad, and losing in the third rounds of both Toronto and Cincinnati. Sam is too good to consistently play so badly. At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, it would be almost criminal to see her career continue on like this.

Venus Watch

Venus got past an extremely tricky first round match against Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium. Flipkens beat Venus a few weeks back in Cincinnati, so there was a measure of revenge in this victory. Still, Vee doesn’t move or play like the Venus of old, exerting much more energy, effort, and screaming to accomplish a diminished level of shot-making. It’s great that she still enjoys the game as much as she does, but less so for those of us who hold our breath with each match, hoping that it’s not “one of those days” for her.

Ryan’s Grand Slam Woes

Ryan Harrison has had the worst luck in his Grand Slam draws. Since 2012, Ryan has faced a top seed in the first or second round of five Slams. In 2012, he faced Andy Murray in the first round of the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic in the second round of Wimbledon, and Juan Martin Del Potro in the second round of the US Open. 2013 was slightly better since he ONLY faced Novak in the second round of the Australian and Rafa Nadal on Monday in the first round of the Open. I hope his fans start saying their prayers to the 2014 draw gods NOW.

Duval and Townsend on Different Paths

New pro Taylor Townsend fell at the final round of qualifying while Vicky Duval, still an amateur, took out a lackluster Sam Stosur in the first round. Taylor tried a few different strategies to get into the main draw at the Open, and all fell flat. Why was there such a rush for her to turn pro in 2013 with so much still to work on in her game?

Top Seeds Roll

Serena, Vika, Aga, and Na all cruised to victory in the first round.  Man oh man would these four have made a great top four for an equally great semifinal lineup! But it was not meant to be.

Rafa crushed Harrison (including his first “shot of the tournament” moment), Roger crushed Zemlja, and Novak crushed Berankis. Too bad the Open scheduler’s stretched out the first round over three days, as Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro have yet to take the court. Roger’s match was delayed a day due to rain, so let’s hope the weather holds up on Wednesday.

Roof and Rain

When is that roof going to be built???

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