James Riley Blake is a former American professional
tennis player. Blake is known for his speed and powerful, flat forehand. During his career,
Blake had amassed 24 singles finals appearances, while his career-high singles ranking was
World No. 4. His career highlights included reaching the final of the 2006 Tennis Masters
Cup, the semifinals of the Beijing Olympics and the quarterfinals of the Australian Open
and US Open, as well as being the former American No. 1. His two titles for the United States
at the Hopman Cup are an event record. Blake was a key performer for the United States
2007 Davis Cup championship team, going 2–0 in the championship tie vs. Russia at second
singles. In 2005, Blake was presented with the Comeback
Player of the Year award for his remarkable return to the tour. Later, in 2008, Blake
was awarded another honor by the ATP, where he was named the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian
of the Year. On July 3, 2007, Blake’s autobiography Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won
Back My Life, which discussed his comeback after his unlucky 2004 season, was released
and debuted at No. 22 on the New York Times Best Seller list. He co-wrote this book with
Andrew Friedman. Blake announced that he would retire from
tennis after competing at the 2013 US Open, to which he suffered a first round loss after
five sets against Ivo Karlovic. Blake’s career ended on August 29, 2013, after a 6–2 2–6
2–6 doubles loss in the 2013 US Open. Early life
Blake was born in Yonkers, New York, to an African American father Thomas Reynolds Blake
and a British mother Betty. He has a brother Thomas, who has also been a professional tennis
player, and three older half-brothers: Jason, Christopher and Howard, and a half-sister
Michelle. Blake started playing tennis at age five alongside
his brother Thomas. When he was 13, he was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and for five
years as a teenager he was forced to wear a full-length back brace for 18 hours a day,
though not while playing tennis. The Blake family moved to Fairfield, Connecticut when
Blake’s father job selling surgical supplies took him from New York to Hartford, Connecticut.
Blake attended Fairfield High School, where a schoolmate and childhood friend was future
musician John Mayer. Blake was inspired to pursue tennis after hearing his role model
Arthur Ashe speak to the Harlem Junior Tennis Program. Brian Barker was his first coach.
He left Harvard University, where he was a member of the A.D. Club, after his sophomore
year to pursue a career in professional tennis. Career
2001–2004: Making a name and breaking neck 2001
At the age of 21, Blake saw his first Davis Cup action in 2001 against India and became
the third person of African-American heritage to play for the Davis Cup for the United States.
Ranked no. 120 in the world, Blake accepted a wild card into Cincinnati. He beat a qualifier
and Arnaud Clément to reach the round of 16, where he met Patrick Rafter. Blake came
close to winning the first set, and after dropping the second set, Rafter, according
to Blake’s autobiography, complimented him at the net and boosted his confidence immeasurably
by saying “Now do you believe you can beat someone like me, or even me?” Blake’s name
became more recognizable world-wide after he pushed the eventual champion Lleyton Hewitt
to five sets at the US Open before losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 0-6.
2002 In January 2002, Blake won the 2002 USTA Waikoloa
Challenger in Hawaii. A month later in Memphis he posted his first win over a top-10 ranked
opponent, Tommy Haas, who was then ranked no. 5, and reached the final, losing to Andy
Roddick. He reached the quarterfinals at the ATP Masters Series event in Rome in May and
the final at Newport in July. In August, in Cincinnati, he won his first career ATP Tour
title and his first ATP Masters Series title: it came in doubles with Todd Martin, making
Blake the first African-American male to win a title of any kind in Cincinnati’s 101-year
history. He was also the first African-American to reach a final in Cincinnati since 1969,
when Arthur Ashe reached the doubles finals with Charlie Pasarell. The next week in Washington,
he won his first ATP Tour singles title, beating Andre Agassi in the semifinals and Paradorn
Srichaphan in the final. At the US Open, he reached the third round, where he again faced
the top-ranked and world number one Lleyton Hewitt for the rematch of the previous year.
In an entertaining match Blake was again defeated in five sets 7-6(5), 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6.
2003 In 2003, his best results were a quarterfinals
appearance at Indian Wells; a round of 16 finish at the Australian Open, Cincinnati,
and Miami; a semifinal appearance at San Jose, and a finals appearance at Long Island where
he lost to Srichaphan. Blake was eliminated from the US Open in the 3rd round by Roger
2004 was a difficult year for Blake as he went through the series of unfortunate and
overwhelming moments. In May, while practicing with Robby Ginepri for the Masters event in
Rome, he broke his neck when he slipped on the clay and collided with the net post. In
July, his father died of stomach cancer. At the same time, Blake developed shingles, which
temporarily paralyzed half his face and blurred his sight.
2005–2008: Rising to the elite and Top 10 years
2005 Blake’s injuries and personal issues caused
him to post relatively poor results for the first half of 2005. By April his ranking was
210. He decided to play the Challenger circuit, the “minor leagues” of tennis, in order to
gain confidence and get more matches. In May he entered events in Tunica, Mississippi and
Forest Hills, New York, winning both. He rejoined the ATP circuit and by August reached the
final at the International Series event in Washington, D.C., where he fell to Roddick.
He was given a wild card into AMS Cincinnati, drawing Federer in the first round. He then
won the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven, Connecticut, defeating Feliciano López
in the final. After New Haven he was ranked 49.
He accepted a wildcard into the US Open where he recorded a memorable run. After defeating
No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the round of 32, he beat Tommy Robredo in four sets to reach the
quarterfinals where he faced Andre Agassi. The late-evening match is considered one of
the greatest classics in the tournament’s history. Blake was up two sets and a break
in the third before Agassi making a comeback to eventually win in a fifth-set tiebreak.
After the match Agassi claimed that “I wasn’t the winner, tennis was”. Later that year,
in October at the Stockholm Open, Blake won his third ATP tour title, defeating Srichaphan
in the final. Blake finished 2005 ranked 22 in the world.
2006 At the beginning of 2006 Blake won the title
at Sydney, taking his fourth ATP tour title defeating Russian Igor Andreev in the final.
At the Australian Open he was seeded twentieth, and depite losing in the third round to Spaniard
Tommy Robredo he broke into the Top 20 for the first time in his career. In March he
beat Hewitt in the final at Las Vegas for his fifth ATP tour title. At the first AMS
event of the year Indian Wells, Blake defeated Robredo in the third round and world No. 2
Nadal in the semifinals, reaching his first career ATP Masters Series singles final, losing
in the final to Federer. By reaching the final, Blake became the first African-American man
since Arthur Ashe to reach the world’s top 10.
At the French Open he defeated Spaniard Nicolás Almagro in four sets in the second round,
to become the last remaining American, and then was beaten by Frenchman Gaël Monfils
in five sets. Beginning the grass court season at the Stella Artois Championships, he defeated
Andy Roddick in the semifinals, losing to Lleyton Hewitt in the final. Ranked No. 5,
Blake took part in the International Series at Indianapolis. He won the singles title,
defeating Roddick. At the US Open he reached the quarterfinals, losing to top seed and
defending champion Roger Federer. In that match Blake won his first set against Federer,
winning the third set in a tiebreaker 11–9. In his debut appearance at the Thailand Open
in Bangkok, Blake won his seventh singles title, defeating Jarkko Nieminen in the quarterfinals,
Marat Safin in the semifinals, and Ivan Ljubičić in the final. Two weeks later Blake won his
fifth title of 2006, defending his 2005 title in Stockholm, defeating Jarkko Nieminen. For
the first time, Blake qualified for the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. He went 2–1 in
the Gold Group, defeating No. 2 Nadal and No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko, while losing to No.
6 Tommy Robredo. He qualified for the semifinals, beating defending champion David Nalbandian,
losing the final to Federer. Blake finished 2006 at a career-high World Number 4 and as
the highest-ranked American tennis player. 2007
In 2007 Blake won at the Sydney International for the second consecutive year. However,
he then suffered a disappointing loss in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open, losing
to tenth seed and eventual finalist Fernando González. In February, Blake made it to the
final of the Delray Beach tournament, but lost it to the Belgian Xavier Malisse in three
tight sets. At the 2007 Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas,
as the defending champion, he was involved with a deep controversy. It was one of the
several tournaments experimenting with the new round robin format, and Blake had lost
his first match to Evgeny Korolev. Korolev lost his other match to Juan Martín del Potro.
In order for Blake to advance to the quarters, he had to defeat Del Potro in straight sets
while losing five games or less. This would result in a three-way tie, with Blake losing
the fewest games. With Blake leading 6–1, 3–1, Del Potro retired. This eliminated
Del Potro from the three-way tie as he failed to complete one of his matches. Korolev then
moved on to the next round, breaking the tie because he had defeated Blake in their match.
Soon after the organizers overruled the tournament guidelines, giving Blake a place in the quarterfinals.
The following morning however they changed the decision once again and as a result, Korolev
re-advanced to the quarterfinals, sending Blake to Indian Wells without a 3rd consecutive
title defense. Shortly after this incident, the ATP decided to cancel the round robin
format, reverting any tournaments planning a round robin draw to the standard single-elimination
draw. During the summer hardcourt season, he advanced
to his second career ATP Masters Series final. At AMS Cincinnati, he beat Alejandro Falla,
Nicolas Kiefer, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Sam Querrey and Nikolay Davydenko en route to the final
before falling to Roger Federer. He won the singles title at Penn Pilot in New Haven,
Connecticut, and reached the final at Los Angeles, losing to Radek Štěpánek in three
sets after having three set points in the first set. In the second round of the 2007
US Open, he won his first career five-set match against Fabrice Santoro. Blake made
it to the fourth round, where he lost to No. 10 Tommy Haas in five sets, despite having
match points in the fifth set. In September Blake and the rest of the US Davis Cup team
defeated Sweden to reach the finals against Russia.
Blake lost in the third round of Paris to Richard Gasquet and thus finished outside
the top eight players, losing his chance to defend the points he gained as finalist in
the 2006 Tennis Masters Cup. In the 2007 Davis Cup finals Blake won his match against Mikhail
Youzhny after Andy Roddick had beaten Dmitry Tursunov in the first rubber. The next day
Bob and Mike Bryan won the doubles rubber over Igor Andreev and Nikolay Davydenko, sealing
the Davis Cup win for the United States. Blake also defeated Tursunov in the last match of
the finals to give Team USA 4-1 win. 2008
At the Australian Open, Blake defeated his first round opponent, Chilean Nicolás Massú.
He then defeated compatriot Michael Russell. In the third round, he fought back from two
sets down to beat French veteran Sébastien Grosjean who had beaten him in each of their
three previous meetings. In the fourth round, Blake beat Marin Čilić in three sets to
advance to the quarterfinals, his best showing yet down under. In the quarterfinal, Blake
faced world No. 1 Roger Federer, and fell in straight sets. Although out of the Australian
Open, Blake’s ranking jumped back into the Top 10 to No. 9 following his best performance
in the tournament yet. In Delray Beach, Blake made it to the final
for the second consecutive year, but fell to No. 244 Kei Nishikori of Japan in three
sets in the final. At the 2008 Pacific Life Open, Blake reached the quarter-finals before
losing to Rafael Nadal in three sets. They met again in the next tournament at the 2008
Miami Masters also in the quarter-finals, and again Blake lost to Nadal in three sets.
Blake then started the clay court season at the River Oaks International tournament in
Houston, Texas. In his second ATP final of the year and his first career clay-court final,
Blake fell to Spaniard Marcel Granollers Pujol. In August 2008, Blake represented the United
States as one of its three men’s singles tennis players in the Beijing Olympics. In the quarterfinals,
he gained one of the biggest wins of his career with his first ever win over Roger Federer
6–4, 7–6. At the time, Federer was ranked as the world’s No. 1 men’s player. His semifinal
match was against Fernando González, the Men’s Singles bronze medalist at the 2004
Olympics in Athens. Blake had triple match point in the middle of the final set, but
would go on to lose 11–9 in the final set. He then lost in the bronze medal match to
Serbian Novak Djokovic. In the US Open, Blake was stretched to a 5
set thriller against American teenager Donald Young in the first round. Blake easily won
his second round match after Steve Darcis retired and then lost to friend and fellow
American Mardy Fish in the third round in straight sets.
2009–2013: Past his prime period 2009
Blake defeated Frank Dancevic in the first round of the Australian Open. His success
continued in the second round after deposing of Frenchman Sébastien de Chaunac in a match
laden with spectator noise and bad line calls. Blake went on to face the 18th seed, Igor
Andreev, in the third round and beat him. He lost in the fourth round in straight sets
to the 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. At the 2009 Estoril Open Blake advanced to
his first clay-court final on European soil, after beating second seed and former Estoril
Open champion Nikolay Davydenko in a rain-interrupted semi-final that was carried over due to bad
light. Blake was defeated by Spain’s Albert Montañés later that day in the finals. The
28-year-old Montanes saved two match points at 4–5 in the second set and fought back
to beat fourth-seeded Blake in two hours and 14 minutes.
At the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club, Blake defeated Ivan Ljubičić, Sam Querrey,
and Mikhail Youzhny to reach the semi-finals. He then reached the final after Andy Roddick
retired with an ankle injury in the first set when the score was tied at 4 games all.
He then went on to lose in the final to Andy Murray. After being eliminated in the first
round of the singles, Blake partnered with compatriot Mardy Fish at the Wimbledon Men’s
Doubles. The Americans advanced to the semi-finals where they lost to defending champions Daniel
Nestor and Nenad Zimonjić despite winning the first two sets.
Following a 3rd round loss at the 2009 US Open to Spain’s Tommy Robredo, Blake split
with longtime coach Brian Barker. He was replaced by Kelly Jones.
2010 Blake started his 2010 campaign at the Brisbane
International in Australia where Blake lost to Gaël Monfils in the quarterfinals. At
the 2010 Australian Open Blake defeated French veteran Arnaud Clément in the first round.
He then faced fourth seed and US Open champion Juan Martín del Potro in the second round,
losing a classic in five grueling sets, 8–10 in the last one. On April 14, Blake announced
that he would be taking the clay court season off with a serious knee injury. As a result
of this injury Blake missed the French Open for the first time since 2004. Blake returned to action at Wimbledon, where
he lost to Dutchman Robin Haase. The result was surprising considering that Haase lost
badly to Blake earlier in the season at Delray Beach. During this match, Blake harshly accused
ESPN commentator and former WTA player Pam Shriver of disrupting play due to her overly
loud commentary from the box situated above the court behind him. This led to a verbal
exchange between the two during the match. After the match, an emotional Blake declared
that if his knee problems did not subside he may consider retirement. Blake, who refuses
to take any anti-inflammatories for his knee, called his performance “embarrassing” and
said “I can’t beat these guys at 80 percent.” Despite these comments, Blake chose to continue
his rehab to prepare for the US hardcourt season. At the Los Angeles Open, Blake’s singles
fate took a turn for the better. Prior to the tournament, Blake told the LA Times that
retirement was “no longer a thought” and that he was “not done yet”. In New Haven, his hometown
tournament where he had claimed titles in 2005 and 2007, Blake made an impressive display
and ousted World No.76 Pere Riba in the first round, converting five of eleven break point
opportunities. Blake won the lightning quick match in a minuscule 35 minutes, making it
the shortest match win of 2010. At the 2010 US Open, Blake advanced to the third round
losing to eventual finalist Novak Djokovic. Blake finished the year ranked outside the
Top 100 for the first time since 2000. 2011
Before the beginning of the 2011 tennis tour Blake ended his partnership with coach Kelly
Jones, choosing to travel alone. In a preseason interview, Blake stated he was healthy and
carrying a positive attitude and would skip the Australian Open. In his first match of
the year, on February 8 at the SAP Open in San Jose, Blake defeated American qualifier
Jesse Levine after Levine succumbed to an injury late in the second set. The American
ran into red-hot Canadian youngster Milos Raonic in the second round and fell after
battling back from a late break down in the second set to force a tiebreaker. Raonic would
go on to win the tournament, his first as a pro. In the 2011 US Open, Blake hit a forehand
winner on match point against Jesse Huta Galung in the first round that was clocked at 125 mph,
thus making it the fastest forehand ever hit, eclipsing Gaël Monfils’s earlier record of
122 mph against Marcos Baghdatis. Blake won the match but lost to David Ferrer.
2012-13 After having unspectacular year in 2012, ranked
no. 123 in the world, Blake started the 2013 season by playing the qualifying rounds of
Australian Open, where he lost to fellow American Donald Young in the 2nd qualifying round.
Blake signed up for BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. He claimed an emotional
win over Robin Haase but lost to World no.8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the 2nd round. He also
played in the Miami Masters and reached the third round losing to Albert Ramos. He skipped
the whole clay court season except his first round exit to Gael Monfils in the US Men’s
Clay Court Championships and his first round loss to Victor Troicki in the French Open.
At Wimbledon Blake convincingly beat Thiemo de Bakker 6–1 6–3 6–2 in just 71 minutes.
Unfortunately, for fans of the American, he lost to Bernard Tomic 6–3 6–4 7–5 in
the next round. Prior to the 2013 US Open Blake announced that the tournament would
be his last and that he would retire from tennis. In the singles he lost in the fifth
set tie-break to Ivo Karlovic, despite leading 2-0 after the first two sets. His last professional
match was a first round defeat in the doubles where partnered with Jack Sock, they were
beaten by Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares. Playing style
Blake is primarily an offensive baseliner. Blake is known for possessing one of the most
powerful forehands in the game, with a solid transition game, and an effective serve and
volleys. Blake also possesses extremely quick footwork, although many claim that he needs
to work on changing direction. Blake’s reputation as a “shotmaker,” combined
with potentially high-error flat groundstrokes make his style of play notably flashy, characterized
by both a high number of winners and unforced errors. In turn, this makes Blake’s game somewhat
streaky, as evidenced by his playing history. Equipment and endorsements
Blake worked with Prince to create a new racquet with Prince’s O3 technology. However, he did
not feel comfortable with this racquet. So, he switched back to the Dunlop Sport Aerogel
200, then the 4D 200, for the 2009 season. He changed to Wilson at the start of the 2010
season, using the new Six.One Tour strung with Luxilon Big Banger Alu Power 16L strings
at high tension. He did not feel comfortable with this racquet either. Therefore, he switched
back to Dunlop again. After the US Open of 2010, he began to test out rackets for Head.
As August 26, 2011, he announced he will use Donnay rackets as his choice and using a customized
Donnay X-Dual Pro. His clothing sponsor is Fila, with whom he started working in 2009
after using Nike for most his career. He has his own clothing line named Thomas Reynolds
Collection after his father. Blake signed an endorsement deal with Evian
in 2005 and his contract was extended in 2008. Personal life
Blake enjoys golf and basketball and is a fan of the New York Mets. He was featured
on Bravo’s second edition of Celebrity Poker Showdown but got 2nd after losing to Maura
Tierney. Blake was also a red pro on Full Tilt Poker,
though he has not been active there since shortly before Black Friday. He appeared in
People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive issue. He is good friends with singer/songwriter
John Mayer, who also attended Fairfield High School. When Blake was invited by Virginia’s
Anthem Insurance to do a cancer charity game honoring his late father, he invited John
Mayer, Andy Roddick and Gavin DeGraw to perform. On November 9, 2012, Blake married Emily Snider,
a publicist, in a beach ceremony in California. They have two daughters.
On May 7, 2014, four dead bodies were discovered after a fire in a Tampa mansion that Blake
owned and was leasing out. A neighbor, who was walking her dog(s), heard a loud explosion
and saw a house engulfed in flames around 5:40 a.m., and called 911. The victims have
been identified as Darrin Campbell, his wife, Kim, and their children, Colin, 19, and Megan,
Blake has a foundation called The James Blake Foundation, which “invests vital seed money
at the leading-edge of science: speed up the most promising work, and shortening the time
it takes to turn lab discoveries into better treatments for patients.” Since 2005, he has
hosted Anthem Live!, a charity tennis exhibition and musical event in Virginia and New York
City to raise money for cancer research. In July 2008, Blake established the Thomas Blake,
Sr. Memorial Research Fund to support cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer
Center. The fund was named in memory of his father, who died from gastric cancer in 2004.
Nike and Fila, which sponsored Blake, created t-shirts for Blake’s charity, the J-Block
program, and proceeds went to the Cancer Research Fund.
Significant finals Olympic Games
Singles: 1 Year-End Championships finals
Singles: 1 Masters 1000 finals
Singles: 2 Doubles: 1
ATP career finals Singles: 24
Doubles: 10 Team tournaments: 2
Singles performance timeline Current through 2013 US Open.
Doubles performance timeline Current till 2013 US Open.
Notes Further reading
Blake, James; Friedman, Andrew L.. Breaking back : How I lost everything and won back
my life. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-134349-8 External links
James Blake official website James Blake at the Association of Tennis Professionals
James Blake at the International Tennis Federation James Blake at the Davis Cup