By Ann Liguori
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The U.S. Open barely got started and one of its most popular players, James Blake, announced his retirement from the game, effective after this US Open.
The 33-year-old, who was born in Yonkers, New York and grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut, said he’s really excited he could retire “on his own terms.” “I had knee surgery a couple years ago, and if that had been the end, it would have been a little more disappointing to me to end it without going out the way I am now where still just two weeks ago, I beat a guy top 20 in the world.”
“I know I have the capability of still playing at that level at times. It’s just not with the same consistency I was able to, four or five years ago when I felt like every week was an opportunity to win a tournament.”
The hometown hero overcame a variety of health and physical challenges through the years including severe scoliosis as a teenager. He broke his neck in May 2004 during a practice session with American Robby Ginepri when he slipped on the clay and collided with the net post.
“I was millimeters from breaking my neck in the way that would have left me paralyzed for the rest of my life,” Blake remembered. “Unfortunately, it was also the time my father passed away (from stomach cancer) and that had an effect on me physically with shingles. If I hadn’t gotten to the ER immediately for treatment, they said my facial nerve could have died…that easily could have ended (my career) right there.”
He wrote about overcoming these challenges in his best-selling book, “Breaking Back: How I lost Everything and Won Back My Life.”
Blake won ten singles titles and seven doubles titles over-all. His best performances at the US Open, where his ‘J-Block’ of fans cheered his every move, was reaching the quarter-finals in both 2005 and 2006. His match against Andre Agassi under the lights in the 2006 quarter-finals was a classic with Agassi winning in a fifth set tie-breaker.
During his press conference on Monday, Blake thanked several people who helped him along the way including his wife and daughter who he said have been there for him the last “five or six years of this.”
He thanked Carlos Fleming, his agent, “not for the dollars and cents I made on the tour.” Blake continued, “I’m thanking him for his friendship. Over 14 years I have had one agent. I still remember the times he came and visited me at college and my Dad scared the crap out of him and made sure he appreciated that school came first.”
Blake spent two years at Harvard University in 1998-1999 and was the top-ranked NCAA player in 1999, where he reached the NCAA singles final.
Blake is a class act and will be missed on the courts. He played with a lot of heart and is genuinely a nice guy. How can you not like a guy who is so charitable and who established a Foundation in his father’s name which raises money for cancer research. We have that in common as the Ann Liguori Foundation raises money for cancer research and prevention. (www.annliguorifoundation.org)
Blake admitted to sneaking in to the National Tennis Center when he was a kid through a fence that some “kind soul had dug a little trench underneath.” He looked up to tennis legend Arthur Ashe and became a huge inspiration in his own right for many young players.
When asked what he will do after retiring from playing, Blake says he wants to spend more time with his family. He said he would love to be back in tennis as Davis Cup Captain some day and that becoming a tennis commentator is a possibility.
Pretty sure that anything Blake decides to do, he’ll do successfully and with class.
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