The 2013 season saw the end of the road for several prominent ATP players. The Grandstand bids its first farewell to James Blake.
James Blake was more than just one of the fastest players with one of the most ferocious forehands during his time on the ATP World Tour. He was one of tennis’ good guys. Blake, who played collegiately at Harvard, overcame scoliosis, a broken neck, and the death of his father to muster up an improbably successful professional career. He also wrote a book, “Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won My Life Back,” chronicling his life on and off the court.
A look back at Blake’s career:
Career-high ranking: 4
ATP titles: 10
Doubles titles: 7
Davis Cup titles: 1
Masters finals (year-end championship included): 3
Biggest win: 2005 U.S. Open third round – beat Rafael Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
It’s hard to remember or even believe that Nadal snagged a set in this match given just how much of a comprehensive beatdown it really was. Blake needed only two hours and 25 minutes to see off the No. 2 player in the world while firing 53 winners—almost double his unforced-error count of 27. He saved eight of 10 break points and converted six of his seven break opportunities. After getting broken to end the second set, Blake woke back up and played like a man possessed. He dropped only four games in the final two frames of play and won an incredible 16 of the match’s last 17 points. The monumental win became even bigger over the coming days as Blake parlayed it into a fourth-round scalp of Tommy Robredo followed by an instant classic against Andre Agassi.
Most heartbreaking loss: 2005 U.S. Open quarterfinals – lost to Andre Agassi 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(6)
“If someone had told me a year ago that I’d have to go out and lose 0, 0, and 0 in the quarterfinals of the Open to Andre Agassi, I’d take it in a heartbeat.”
That’s what Blake said after beating Nadal and moving within one round of facing Agassi. The matchup happened, but it certainly did not result in a triple-bagel. Far from it. Instead, Agassi-Blake turned into the match of the tournament and arguably the match of the year. Playing in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal (he eventually appeared in three and never reached a semifinal), Blake had a golden chance to upset the No. 7 player in the world and advance to the last four (where he likely would have been favored against Robby Ginepri). He led two sets to love and also served for the match at 5-4 in the fifth. The 35-year-old Agassi, however, forced a decisive tiebreaker and converted his second match point at 7-6 by running around for a forehand off a second serve and crushing it for a winner. Speaking to the crowd past 1:00 in the morning, Agassi declared, “I wasn’t the winner, tennis was.”
Last match: U.S. Open first round – lost to Ivo Karlovic 6-7(2), 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(2), 7-6(2)
An improbable run to the second week of the U.S. Open would have been an appropriate end to Blake’s career. Unfortunately, what transpired at the other end of the highlight-lowlight spectrum was a similarly fitting conclusion. Blake lost the first nine five-set matches of his career before beating Fabrice Santoro at the 2007 U.S. Open and he finished with an improved but still horrendous 4-15 mark in five-setters. Six times he squandered two-set leads, each of the last two coming against Karlovic. After losing to the 6’10’’ Croat 6-7(5), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3), 7-5 in a 2009 Davis Cup quarterfinal rubber, Blake suffered a similar fate in the opening match of his final tournament. The 33-year-old won 26 return points and broke Karlovic three times in the first two sets, but he earned only one break over the last three sets and was no match for his opponent’s booming serve in the fourth-set and fifth-set tiebreakers.
Comments, disagreements, and your own personal Blake reflections are encouraged!