James Blake: The Remarkable African American Who Conquered Tennis on and off the Court

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James Riley Blake had an interesting career. He’s evolved from a player to a tournament director and has expanded his domain to other areas. He reached a career-high ranking of number in 2006, and although he never won a grand slam, he left a mark in the game. Blake, through his own experience, talks about police brutality and, as a public speaker, shares his experiences. Here’s a deep take on his career.

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James Blake’s Early Days

spotcovery-James Blake being aced again by Andy Murray.
James Blake being aced again by Andy Murray. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0

James Blake was born on 28 December 1981 in Yonkers, New York. He took after his elder brother Thomas, who played tennis. He decided to pursue it professionally after listening to Arthur Ashe’s speech at the Harlem Junior Tennis Program, which he was part of. 

Blake earned a scholarship at Harvard University. He dominated collegiate tennis and earned All-American honors. He had nothing left, so he left to pursue professional tennis. 

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Pro Tennis Career

James Blake playing at Wimbledon. Video Credit: 96817ng

In 2001 at the, age of 21, Blake became the third black person to represent the United States at the Davis Cup. He got himself into good tournaments, playing in the majors and against big opponents. He faced Arnaud Clement, Patrick Rafter, and Lleyton Hewitt. 

Blake’s budding success in the professional tour continued in 2002 when he won the USTA Waikoloa Challenger, defeated a top 10 ranked player in Tommy Haas, and lost to Andy Roddick. That year, Blake won his first ATP tour title at the Cincinnati Open and was the first African-American to do so. He followed this up with an ATP Single title win.

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Injury and Comeback

The following year, the tennis player played in the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Cincinnati, and Miami tournaments. In 2004, he broke his neck and was out for a significant amount of time. Additionally, he suffered other setbacks – he lost his father and a temporary paralysis that saw his ranking drop to 210.

Blake made his full comeback in 2005. He played in junior competitions to regain his fitness and gradually make his way back. Between then and 2006, Blake won four ATP titles tournaments, which consisted of most of his career wins. He collected five more titles until 2009. He finished his career with a total of 10 single and 7 doubles titles. 

On his way to winning these titles, he defeated opponents like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. This showed his ability to compete at the highest level. Such victories explain why he became world number 4.

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Grand Slam Titles

Despite numerous appearances at all four tennis grand slams: Australian, French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, his best result was a quarter-final finish at the Australian & U.S Open. In the doubles, Blake reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2009. 

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Impact Off Court

James Blake established the James Blake Foundation to raise cancer awareness and fund research. He did this after his father’s battle with the illness. 

Beyond that, he speaks passionately about police brutality after an incident in 2015 that saw him get arrested wrongly in a case of mistaken identity. He was standing outside the Grand Hyatt, New York, when officers pinned him to the ground. 

Blake was released and later wrote a book about the incident. Further, he became an activist, standing up against police brutality.

James Blake transitioned from being a player to a writer and activist, among other pursuits he’s engaged in. His determination to always be the best is why he’s accomplished in and outside the sport.

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