FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – As James Blake stood on the court of Arthur Ashe last night, you had to wonder if this was going to be his swan song. After all, the 29 year-old has struggled with injuries the last few years and he’s not getting any younger.
“A couple people mentioned something like that to me,” he said after downing Kristof Vliegen in straight sets, 6-3 6-2 6-4. “They’re trying to get rid of me already. I hope that’s not the case.
“But, you know, I was just really honored to be there. I didn’t think of that until it came up yesterday when someone sort of mentioned that to me, ’cause I really, when I got the call first or email first actually about being a part of it, I didn’t tell any of my friends or even my coach or anyone, because I thought in a couple weeks they were going to call and tell me, We found someone better, forget it, you don’t need to be here for it.”
Blake, though, is not ready to hang it up. He is planning of playing as long as possible and just looks at his friend and confident Andre Agassi, with whom he had that classic encounter, back in 2005, where the future Hall of Fame legend came back from two sets down to win quarterfinals.
“I think we all remember his speech here in his last match,” he said. “He’s someone that also played with a little bit of emotion and fed off the crowd and enjoyed tennis and appreciated as much, had a second career as well when he dropped all the way down to 141 and came back to No. 1.
“What he did, he belonged there last night as well as someone that’s inspired so many others, including myself. He finished here, he beat me when he was 35, I think, 34, 35. You know, there’s a chance I still could be playing in four or five more years.
“His brand of tennis maybe took a little less punishment on his body because he was the one doling out all the punishment. I’m proud to say I’m a friend of his. He’s someone that helped me. You wouldn’t think of a superstar like that calling a young kid to give him a scouting report, helping him out when he really didn’t need to, treating him at his nightclub in Las Vegas. Everything you could think of for a superstar they normally wouldn’t do, he was there to do. To be a normal guy, to be one of the guys in the locker room, I respected him so much for that.
Also Blake can look at Mardy Fish, whom many have picked to be a dark horse choice at this Open. Fish lost 30 pounds and is in the best shape of his life. Yet Blake feels it’s different with him as he tends to need to put on weight, rather than lose it.
So there may still be a chance for Blake, but he is clearly on the downside of his career and may pack it in, even as early as this year and if he does he will be able to look back at all the great matches the Yonkers native played.
His best though: At the Davis Cup in 2007 when he beat Mikhail Youzhny, 6–3, 7–6, 6–7, 7–6 in the finals over Poland.
“It’s the most memorable, yeah,” he recalled. “That’s the one that I think I’ll remember forever ’cause that Davis Cup team was one that had been through a lot together. We played so many matches together, I think the most of any group, specific group, in U.S. history.
“We just had so much fun together. We had won a lot, we had lost a lot. We made it through that whole journey, got to the finals, and we all contributed. Andy won. I won a close one. The Bryans closed it out. We were all part of that year, part of that victory, shared holding that victory, being part of something special.
“For me, that was pretty darn exciting, especially since I lost to him the year before on the clay in Russia. To get a win over him, three tiebreaks, it wasn’t on cruise control by any stretch. Came through in a lot of big points, had a lot of confidence at that time. Had the fans and the team right behind me.
“That’s always going to be a pretty good memory. When you have the Bryan twins playing doubles for you, you feel pretty confident going into Saturday up 2‑0.”
Maybe, though he will have one more memorable match in his at the 2010 US Open.