James Blake To Retire

By Jane Voigt

August 27, 2013 -- One year ago, James Blake's friend and American tennis hero, Andy Roddick, retired at The U. S. Open. This year is Blake's turn. The 33-year-old chose New York as his last hurrah because it is his city. He was born in Yonkers.

Blake's decision was not easy, yet not completely unexpected. How could it be one or the other? Here's a healthy male, with a new family, and at a young age retiring from his job as world-class tennis player. Facts are, the wheel of fortune has finally stopped on that letter … "R."

With tears in his eyes and in his deep mellow voice, he opened up in a press conference at the National Tennis Center yesterday. "'No real surprise here,'" Blake said, the Associated Press reported. "'I always wanted to end my career at The U. S. Open.'"

It's one thing to talk with your family, friends and coaches, about what you would like to say at this difficult moment. But lining up the narrative in front of a gaggle of folks poised to spark your words worldwide with a couple taps on their smart phones is a reality you can't experience until the words fall on the listeners' ears. 

We have all had episodes similar to the one Blake went through. Breaking up with a fiancé. Moving away from your favorite city to better your career, friends' mouths agape, your stomach knotted, after you have revealed the news. Makes one dizzy with doubt immediately. 

Come to find out before the Open last year, where he needed his second-ever wildcard to enter the main draw - the first was in 1999, his inaugural Open, he had contemplated closing the gate. 

In April his knee didn't work the way it needed to. Blake's game is a forcefield of ball smacking, whether the fuzzy yellow objects come right to him or on the run because he could get to balls way gone, or so it seemed. So without his legs, his game was kaput. 

"'Without my legs, I'm a below-average player,'" Blake said, ESPN reported. "'To be honest, I was worried that my knee wasn't coming around. I was going to give it this summer. I was thinking that might be it.'"

James' brother, Thomas, told ESPN then,  "'It's very tough to listen to. I know he came really close, really close.'"

Blake made it to the third round a year ago. With his match wins this year, his ranking has inched upward. For his final U. S. Open he has a direct entry into the main draw, which could certainly be viewed as the opportune moment.

With well over $7 million bankrolled from 14 years of tennis matches, Blake will not have to worry about finances. He reached a career high of No. 4 in 2006. He said in his interview he would like to be the USA Davis Cup captain some day, which makes perfect sense. 

One of his fondest memories came in 2007 in Portland, Oregon, where the squad of Roddick, Blake and the Mike and Bob Bryan captured the Davis Cup for the 32nd time, and last, over Russia. These four imposing athletes were the portrait of American tennis then. Now, with Roddick gone on to his gig with Fox Sports 1 and Blake about to call it quits, the Bryan Brothers remain as the last protector of great American tennis, so far.  

Up first for the American this year is six-ten Ivo Karlovic, a serving machine from Croatia who has also spent time off court lately due to Achilles tendon problems. Karlovic is 34. Seems like the perfect pairing.

Blake's U. S. Open history is chock-full of memories. Raucous cheer shook the biggest stadium in the world -- Arthur Ashe -- during the 2005 quarterfinal against a 35-year-old Andre Agassi. Who could forget The J Block that night? A healthy league of Blake groupies that interrupted so many points the chair umpire had to ask them to take a seat. Well that worked for about a second. 


James Blake teamed with American Jack Sock in Men's Doubles. He and the young Sock lost in the first round to the No. 2 seeded team of  Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares.
Photo credit tennisclix

Blake went up two sets and lost the next two. His five-set record was abysmal. Something like 9-0. The tiebreak brought every fan to their feet. Two Americans going at it tooth and nail. Blake battling a choking record. Agassi squeezing more ink out of the history books. Agassi prevailed 8-6. He lost to Roger Federer in the final, Federer on his way up. Agassi tuning up for his swan song. 

Blake put on one of his best performances in Indianapolis. The year, 2008. His opponent Yen-Hsun Lu. The quarterfinals. Blake's face said it all -- I'm in the zone. Seeded No. 1, he walloped Lu 62 60 in 43 minutes. Every shot worked its magic. It was an awesome display.

"It's a nice feeling to walk off in less than forty-five minutes with a win," James said, smiling. "I never expected that. I have a healthy respect for Lu. I've seen him play well. But I worked hard and kept my feet moving quickly." 

His answer will forever remind us of his ability to articulate, never forget the person that lost because someone has to lose and it could have been James, and his humility. 

“It’s easy to win when you’re playing well,” he said later. “But to win when I’m not playing well, that means a lot. Then I can go on with more confidence.”

Blake and young American Jack Sock are teamed up for doubles this U.S. Open. It's a nice combination. A feel-good passage in his final chapter. 

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013