James Blake announced on Monday that he will retire at this year’s US Open. The 33-year-old American cited an increased focus on his family as being the main reason for calling time on his over decade long tennis career.
Blake won a total of 10 ATP Tour titles along with reaching a career high ranking of No. 4 in the world. Known for his aggressive play on the baseline that included one of the fastest forehands on the tour, Blake certainly proved to be one of the most entertaining players to watch. But his career is certainly one that, although being a very good one, may have been a great one if some of his most notable matches had gone his way instead of his opponent’s.
The Yonkers, New York native overcame scoliosis as a teenager before attending Harvard University for two years. He left as a sophomore to pursue a full-time tennis career in part inspired by his father and the late Arthur Ashe who Blake heard speak at the Harlem Junior Tennis Program.
Blake became a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team in 2001 and only the third African-American to compete on the squad. That same year, Blake was awarded a wildcard into the US Open. Blake lost to Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt in a tight second round match where Hewitt was accused of making negative comments towards a black linesman who called several foot faults on Hewitt. For his part, Blake in a written statement said, “I’m definitely going to give him (Hewitt) the benefit of the doubt because it’s in competition.”
In 2002, Blake won his first ever ATP title in Washington. But 2004 proved to be Blake’s most challenging yet. While practicing with fellow American Robby Ginepri in Rome, Blake slid into the net post and broke his neck. That same year, Blake’s father died while Blake himself developed shingles that caused temporary blindness and left his face partially paralyzed. Blake recovered, but his ranking fell to outside the top 200.
2005 saw Blake make his return to the sport. By the time of the US Open, Blake was once again ranked inside the top 50. Blake played a memorable quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows against Andre Agassi. Blake won the first two sets only to watch as Agassi fought back to win the next two and eventually force a final set tiebreak well past midnight.
Agassi went on to win the match. 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (6). “It couldn’t have been more fun to lose,” said Blake afterwards. Though Blake was gracious in defeat, many still feel that was a match he should have won that would have likely propelled him to his first ever Grand Slam final.
Despite being a top five player, Blake would only reach the quarters at the Australian Open and US Open during his career.
Blake, playing for the U.S. Davis Cup team, won both of his singles rubbers against Russia in the Davis Cup finals of 2007. Those wins helped the U.S. defeat Russia 4-1 to seal the 2007 title.
In the Summer Games of 2008 held in Beijing, Blake reached the semifinals after defeating Roger Federer in three sets. In the semis against Fernando Gonzalez, Blake felt he was robbed of the match after one of his shots hit Gonzalez’s racquet though Gonzalez did not admit to it. Gonzalez went on to win in three sets and after that the silver medal. Blake himself lost in the bronze medal match to Novak Djokovic.
Recent years saw Blake’s ranking tumble though he continued to play in both Challenger and main draw ATP events. His best result in 2013 was reaching the quarterfinals in Atlanta where he lost to eventual champion John Isner.
Blake played his final pro singles match on Wednesday after losing to Ivo Karlovic in the first round of the US Open 6-7, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6, 7-6.
In a press conference held on the first Monday of this year’s US Open, Blake said, “This is my last tournament. I have had 14 pretty darn good years on tour, loved every minute of it, and I definitely couldn’t have asked for a better career. For me to think of matches I should have won and to make those as regrets for me has always just seemed greedy. I don’t want to be dragged out of this game. I want to leave on my own terms.”
For Blake, considered one of the sport’s fairest competitors, his presence on the courts will be missed.