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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Blake Dominates Verkerk for Hilton Title

Waikoloa, HI - A third time was indeed a charm for James Blake Sunday afternoon at the Hilton Waikoloa Village USTA Challenger. The 22-year-old Blake, a two-time prior Waikoloa runner-up, put on a dominating performance defeating surprise finalist Martin Verkerk 6-2, 6-3 to capture the first U.S. Challenger Series title of the season.

"This year I really wanted to finally get my name on that that trophy," said an elated Blake after the victory. "I had an great time out here all week. It's an unbelievable tournament, one of the best on the planet. And after a heartbreaking loss last week in Australia it's nice to come out a winner here."

The 1-hour, 4-minute match was relatively one-sided as Blake was simply the quicker, stronger and the more confident player during the match. Blake, a former NCAA No. 1 at Harvard, dropped just eight service points and faced little resistance, while Verkerk struggled to hold his own serve surrendering breaks in the sixth and eighth games to hand the top seed a quick first set.

The second set featured more of same from Blake as he continued to pound away at Verkerk's serve and play flawless tennis on his own service games. Verkerk's game deteriorated as his usually reliable backhand fell apart and an ill-timed missed sitter volley gave Blake an early break and a formidable 4-2 lead.

Three games later Blake raised his hand in jubilation after a Verkerk backhand found the net to give the Tampa resident his fourth career Challenger Series singles title.

"I really wanted to make him think a lot on his serve," said Blake who earned $7,200 for the win and 60 ATP ranking points. "And I think today I really accomplished that breaking him three times and I even had a lot more chances.

"I was also serving really well today," added Blake who never faced a break point on his serve. "I've gone back to a more natural motion and it feels really good."

Verkerk, who was playing here in Hawaii for the first time and was appearing in his first career hard court final, gave credit to Blake.

"James played very well today," said the 23-year-old Verkerk. "He had me under pressure all the time and he was the better player today.

"It's my first hardcourt final and it was such a tough draw," added Verkerk who falls to 0-6 in Challenger Series finals. "This tournament was a very tough level for a challenger, so I'm happy with my result this week."

Verkerk leaves with $4,240 and 42 ATP ranking points.

In the doubles final, Glenn Weiner and Gabriel Trifu spoiled Blake's attempt at a rare singles/doubles sweep as they knocked off the singles champion and his partner, Justin Gimelstob, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to win the title. The Romanian Trifu and his American partner will split $3,100 in winnings and each take home 60 ATP doubles ranking points.

2,282 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Bring It On Home James



Blake: Rising star

ATP Kroger St. Jude
Quarter-final review

Full results

Young American James Blake demolished top seed Tommy Haas to reach the semi-finals of the Kroger St. Jude in Memphis on Friday.

The 22-year-old called it the biggest win of his life as he stormed to a 6-3, 6-1 victory over the German, who was hampered by an arm injury.

"James played some phenomenal tennis," admitted Haas. "He didn't let me into the match and his game has improved a

Blake now plays fellow countryman Jan-Michael Gambill, who came through a tight match against fifth seed Rainer Schuettler to win 6-3 4-6 7-6.

Afterwards, Gambill said: "The first set was pretty quick, and when I was a break up in the second, I was on cruise control. But then he started to play some unbelievable tennis, and from then on it was really tight."

Earlier, Xavier Malisse saved three match points before beating Todd Martin. Serving at 5-3, 40-0 in the final set, the American missed what seemed to be a routine backhand volley as Malisse began to make his way to the net to shake hands.

That point marked the beginning of the end for Martin, who reached four consecutive finals in Memphis in the 1990s, as Malisse rattled off the next 11 points before taking the match 7-6 3-6 7-5 in two hours three minutes.

Malisse now meets Andy Roddick who blasted past Armenia's Sargis Sargsian 6-3 6-4.

291 Posts
Go James !!

He's really cute, isn't he??:kiss: :hearts: :kiss:

2,282 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I Hear Ya - Fine As Wine

Blake: Best Is Yet To Come For Young Americans

James Blake By Richard Pagliaro

James Blake had just evened the Kroger St. Jude final against Davis Cup teammate Andy Roddick at one set apiece and was headed for his court-side seat when the crowd at the Memphis Racquet Club made a stand.

The standing ovatation resulted in a resounding roar that reverberated throughout the club and served as a show of respect and appreciation for the young American pair. The fans weren't the only ones applauding. Throughout the match, both Blake and Roddick applauded each other for spectacular shots. And after the 19-year-old Roddick captured his fourth career title with a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory, the performance of both players made it clear American tennis fans will have reason to cheer a pair of players with promising futures.

"I think part of the reason Andy and I were applauding each other is because we know it's another step forward for American tennis," Blake said. "We're happy to see it. I don't know how that last generation came up together - Sampras and Agassi and Chang and Martin. I don't know how well they got along. But this group, it feels like we're having a great time, and I hope it continues for 10 years down the road."

It was the first all-American final in Memphis since Todd Martin defeated Brad Gilbert in 1994 and marked the first all-American final since 1995 that did not include Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi.

"I hope those rumors of American tennis dying are starting to quiet down a little bit more," said Blake after his first ATP final. "Andy can bear that load on his own, I think. But with me improving, and all of us improving, seeing how well he's done, I think it's helping out the whole rest of the depth of American tennis."

The 13th-ranked Roddick has emerged as one of the top young talents in tennis. A U.S. Open quarterfinalist, who suffered a five-set setback to eventual champion Lleyton Hewitt at Flushing Meadows last September, Roddick has earned a reputation as the young American most likely to breakthrough to win a major title.

The 22-year-old Blake, a Yonkers, N.Y. native who learned to play tennis at the Harlem Tennis Center, has made major strides in the past year as well.

"James has improved night and day, especially since the U.S. Open." Roddick said. "James and I aren't the only ones, either,"

Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent and Robby Ginepri have each earned reputation as exciting young American players. Fish teammed with Blake to win the doubles match for the U.S. Davis Cup team in its 5-0 sweep of the Slovak Republic in Oklahoma City earlier this month. The victory snapped a streak of five straight American losses in Davis Cup doubles. Dent, whose serve routinely rocks the radar gun in excess of 130 miles per hour, is a serve-and-volleyer who is still learning to control his immense power.

The new generation of American players is unified by a desire to succeed and a passion for playing Davis Cup. Past American champions from Jimmy Connors to Sampras to Agassi to Chang each declined to play Davis Cup at various times in their career. But the new breed welcomes the opportunity to try to claim the Cup for the United States.

"The best thing about this young group of guys is that we're working hard to get better," Blake said, "But we're also all very committed to Davis Cup. Anytime I'm asked and healthy, I'll be there ready to play, as prepared as I possibly can be. It's something that would be an unbelievable experience to kind of grow up and go through the ranks with these guys and maybe get a Davis Cup crown with them."

2,282 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Come On - James

March 11, 2002 Talk about it E-mail story Print

Worth the Wait
James Blake didn't take the standard route to becoming the latest U.S. talent, but his road has been worth it.

INDIAN WELLS -- The most recent frames of James Blake's life have him reaching a tournament final, receiving a standing ovation during the match, earning accolades for his sportsmanship and poise under difficult circumstances, and lastly, modeling Kenneth Cole and DKNY threads in a glossy magazine.

Of course, the earlier frames are more interesting, telling how Blake got here, a journey that, on many levels, could not have been more drastic.

* At 13, he wore a back brace; now 22, he has a contract with IMG Models. * As a teenager, he entered Harvard with the modest goal of playing No. 4 singles; now he's ranked 49th in the ATP Entry System. He reached his first ATP final last month in Memphis, Tenn., losing to Andy Roddick in three sets. The occasion marked the first time an African American male made a final since Mal Washington lost at Wimbledon in 1996.

"It's unfortunate," Blake said of the gap. "Maybe it's a generational thing. Mal looked up to Arthur [Ashe], and I looked up to Mal. Maybe in between there weren't as many people to look up to. If myself and Levar Harper-Griffith do well, it'll get some kids to come out and see us be positive role models."

* A self-described "brat," he used to do a pretty decent imitation of John McEnroe; now he's acting more like another early influence, Ashe, winning sportsmanship awards and defusing heated situations.

Blake started 2000 by losing his first six matches, but by the time he finished 2001 he was on the U.S. Davis Cup team. He nearly defeated eventual champion Lleyton Hewitt at the U.S. Open, losing in five sets in the second round.

"You never know what you're going to get," said Brian Barker, who has coached Blake since he was 11. "He likes a different hairdo or a different headband that no one else is wearing. I think he likes to surprise me, likes to surprise everyone."

With the recent combination of Davis Cup and the Memphis final, finally, there is another American name to put in the same sentence with Roddick. No longer does Blake's story focus solely upon the issue of race.

For ATP officials, who hardly were counting on Blake a year ago, his arrival into prominence after victories against Alex Corretja, Tommy Haas and Xavier Malisse in 2002 is a marketing godsend.

Blake and Roddick are scheduled to make their first appearance here as the Pacific Life Open men's event starts today with main-draw play at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Roddick, who is seeded 11th, may not be able to play because of illness, but if he does, he will face a qualifier in the first round; Blake, a wild-card entrant, opens against Jan-Michael Gambill.

The Blake-Gambill match could have larger implications because of the upcoming Davis Cup quarterfinal against Spain on grass next month in Houston. Blake, not Gambill, received the call from captain Patrick McEnroe to play singles in the relegation round against India in October. Blake won both his singles matches and combined with Mardy Fish to win the doubles in the first round against Slovakia.

Gambill versus Blake could be called a battle of the models. How often do you get to write that about tennis players not named Kournikova? Gambill has long had an agreement with the Ford Modeling Agency, and now Blake has a deal.

Much to his chagrin, Blake has taken some shots from the off-runway players on the tour.

"Oh yeah, plenty," Blake said. "I think it's going to be worse in Miami. I'm being made fun of in the locker room a little bit, just that this whole tennis thing is not even important, just to get into bigger and better things. Yeah, right. I don't think I have much chance of that. I better go work on my forehand."

Blake takes the teasing in stride. After all, he has had plenty of practice. When he was 13 he was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, and he had to wear a brace 18 hours a day to prevent the condition from worsening. The only time he took it off was to play tennis. Even now his back hurts on long fights.

"It was very tough," Blake said. "It probably made me more shy in school because I had a huge plastic brace under my clothes. I was very restricted in my movement. I'm lucky I haven't had any more problems."

He chuckled.

"I think I'd be about two inches taller if I had a straight back," he said. "I'd have a little bigger serve."

Blake's rise has taken even his closest associates by surprise. Barker said his protege did not even qualify for the nationals when he was 15. Within three years, he won the U.S. National 18s Clay Courts and got to the final at Kalamazoo.

In a sense, his slow development may have helped the U.S. Davis Cup team.

With all the attention placed upon Taylor Dent and his dual American and Australian heritage, hardly anyone noticed that Blake's mother, Betty, is British. But McEnroe put Blake in the Davis Cup lineup, ending the possibility that the youngster could join Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski.

At the Australian Open, Blake told Henman that his mother is from Oxfordshire. Henman perked up, according to Blake.

"I don't think he knew," Blake said. "He said, 'Really, why don't you play for us?' I think Jose Higueras [of the USTA] was on the court at the same time, and he said, 'Hey, stay away from our guy.' They never showed that much interest. I don't think they knew. I love England, going back there, but I was born and raised here.

"I would have been happy if they had given me a wild card into Wimbledon, but hopefully I won't need it anymore. Maybe since I'm half-English, half the crowd will be on my side."

Betty and his father, Tom, were tennis players and brought their sons along to the courts, which was easier than finding a baby-sitter. Young James tested their patience as well as Barker's. Blake said he would hit three balls and start whining, and "going nuts."

Said Barker: "So many people were on him to behave better. He did well at a couple of tournaments and no one was that fired up because he could be a pain in the neck. I think he realized what's the sense of being good if you're not that popular. Now he still gets angry but controls it very well."

Blake's older brother, Thomas, chalks it up to maturity.

"I think he just got a little bit older and started to feel ridiculous, like he was the only one out there doing it," Thomas said.

Whether it's college, satellites or the ATP pro tour, Blake eventually makes the journey.

2,282 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Hang In There - James

PROFILE: James Blake
by Peter Bodo

From the APRIL 2002 issue of TENNIS Magazine
Photo courtesy Blake family
STEPPING UP: James Blake has been a star in Harlem, at Harvard, and on America’s Davis Cup team. How far can his classic style of play take him on the ATP tour?

feeling of nostalgia had been growing in 22-year-old James Blake since early in the morning, when he and his brother, Tom Jr., 25, climbed into the family car with their parents, Tom and Betty. They were leaving leafy, middle-class Fairfield, Conn.—where the Blakes had moved from Yonkers, N.Y., more than a decade ago—and heading back to Harlem, to East 143rd St., to the place known by regulars like the Blakes as “the Armory.”

James, racquet bag slung over his shoulder, chin buried in the fur collar of his coat to ward off the frigid December wind blowing in off the East River, slipped through a narrow door marked Harlem Tennis Center (HTC) in a red-brick building that occupies almost an entire city block.

It was just as Blake remembered: the dry, musty air, the diffuse light filtering through grimy windows near the ceiling, the institutional, pistachio-green walls. In the makeshift lounge, two elderly black men in tennis whites were locked in their ritual Saturday-morning chess match. On the wall behind them were handwritten inspirational signs and a Wilson poster featuring Tracy Austin back in her flyaway ponytail days.

The mellow strains of Jazz 88 saturated the air. At various times, the Armory has been a National Guard facility, a tennis club, and a city-run homeless shelter. Blake has seen several of these incarnations, having been a fixture here since he was 3 years old, when he and Tom Jr. played in the Harlem Junior Tennis Program (HJTP), a league for local minority kids that volunteers like Tom Sr. and Betty Blake help run.

A large man strolled James’ way. “Hello, Mr. Brown,” Blake said, trying to suppress an ear-to-ear grin. “How you do—”

“Why you little piece of s---,” said Dante Brown, the executive director of HJTP. “What do you want now?”

“Aw man, screw you,” Blake said. “You get them heavyweight support structures in your shoes yet?”

“Maybe I do,” Brown responded, “and I tell you what—I can still kick your butt with them.”

Brown and the young man he’d helped mold into a tennis player embraced.

This was a homecoming for Blake, his first since cracking the ATP’s Top 100 (he rose as high as No. 63 in January 2002). Later, the Blake brothers, along with pal John McEnroe, put on an exhibition and hosted a question-and-answer session during which James would tell the audience of a few hundred kids and their parents how he’d gotten into Harvard, and how he’d left after his sophomore year to join the pro tour. He’d talk about his 2001 breakout season and his brilliant Davis Cup debut, when he won both of his singles matches to assure victory over a team from India, thus sparing the U.S. the ignominy of falling out of the World Group.

What might prove more difficult to ex-plain to the wide-eyed children was how Blake catapulted into the public consciousness as the result of a match he’d lost (a mere second-rounder at that) at the 2001 U.S. Open to the eventual champion, Lleyton Hewitt. That five-set marathon was noteworthy for the quality of play, but also for the controversy stirred up when Hewitt, after being called for a pair of foot faults by a black linesman, screamed at the chair umpire, “Look at him [Blake], mate, and you tell me what the similarity is,” and demanded that the official be moved (he was).

Blake, whose father is African-American and whose mother is white, handled the potentially explosive situation with characteristic aplomb (he charitably accepted Hewitt’s absurd claim that there was nothing “racialistic” about his rant), winning the admiration of the fans and the media, who characterized Blake’s reaction as “Ashe-like.”

And they were right, perhaps more than they knew. For Blake, like the late Arthur Ashe, is a cool, clear-thinking realist who is, first and foremost, a tennis player. As he says: “I appreciate the credit the media gave me for the way I handled the Hewitt situation. Sure, I want to be a positive role model, but in the end, I felt that the level of tennis that day deserved attention, too. I want to make it onto SportsCenter solely for my tennis.”

It’s difficult to appreciate just who James Blake is without meeting his mother. Roughly 30 years ago, Betty was a junior-Olympic long jumper from Banbury, in Oxfordshire, England. Vestiges of a classic British peaches-and-cream complexion remain in the lean, pale face of the woman who now wears her soft brown hair in a no-frills pageboy.

“Nobody believes I’m [the boys’] mother,” she says, shrugging. Then she adds, echoing the words spewed out by Hewitt last September: “I mean, just look at us.”

(Indeed. Tom Jr. is a towering 6-foot-5, blessed with the same striking amber eyes as his 54-year-old father. James is a rangy 6-1, with a long torso, chestnut-colored eyes, and fine cheekbones set in a complexion as smooth as caramel. His hair, which he wears in a blow-out Afro, is tinged with a maternal legacy of red. The package is arresting; not surprisingly, Blake has parlayed his looks into a contract with IMG Models, an offshoot of the company that manages his tennis career.)

By the late 1960s, Betty had moved to America and come to live with her mother and sister in Yonkers. The tennis boom was in full swing. While serving in the Air Force, Tom Sr., along with a friend, Ray Pitts, picked up tennis. Both men also enjoyed reading, and it was while poring over the books of Herman Hesse, the pacifist author, that Blake, as a way of protesting the U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, became a vegetarian. (Having run a vegetarian household for a quarter century, Betty says, “I think we’ve proven that being raised vegetarian doesn’t stunt your growth.”)

Fresh out of the service, Tom Sr. settled in Yonkers and embarked on a career as an account manager with 3M, the only organization other than the U.S. military for which he’s ever worked. He was hungry for tennis and frequented the public courts, where he quickly sized up the best player out there and took her for a hitting partner.

“At first, Betty was a lot better. She was the one who knew tennis,” he says. “But I caught up, and now I’m top dog in the house.” He pauses, before sheepishly adding, “Well, at least when neither boy is home.”

From the beginning, little James showed an affinity for the sport. As a toddler, he took a new toy, a Fisher-Price drag-along corn popper, and within minutes had un-screwed the handle and begun whacking tennis balls across the kitchen floor with it. The Blakes had a penchant for setting the bar high in every pursuit, tennis included, and that spurred James to succeed.

“The boys were so competitive, they had me tearing out my hair,” Betty says. “How often I used to breathe a silent prayer, ‘Please let James win . . .’ He cared so much. How can you be so competitive in a board game, or even a game of chance? I don’t know, but James was.”

It was about this time that Tom Sr. became a volunteer tennis teacher with HJTP, trundling the family off to the Armory every weekend. It wasn’t long before the boys got too good for the place, but they remained in the program, evolving into teachers and, occasionally, even tutors.

“It was about education more than tennis,” says James, noting that in order to participate, a child had to maintain a C average in school. “The program was about improving as an all-around human being, and part of that was becoming the kind of person who gives something back.”

James was 6 when the Blakes moved to Fairfield and began looking for a coach who could take the boys’ tennis to the next level. It was at the Tennis Club of Trumbull (Conn.) that they found Brian Barker, fresh off the pro tour. He still coaches James and Tom Jr., an aspiring, injury-plagued pro whose highest ranking to date is 410. At the time, though, the biggest hurdle facing James was his size: As a high school sophomore, he stood all of 5-foot-3.

“I was resigned to being the short one in the family,” says Blake, who then shot up between his junior and senior years. “Being unable to use my serve as a weapon, I learned to play small, scrapping out points, getting the ball back. And that helped me later on, because I feel like I can still create points and win matches without having to rely on a weapon.”

The other big hurdle for Blake to overcome was his temper, which by the time he was 13 was so volatile that Barker contemplated forcing him to sit out a full year. “I was a perfectionist,” James says. “One missed shot could put me in the most horrible mood.”

Blake’s temper was so foul that when Barker telephoned to check on Blake at junior tournaments, his first question was never “How’d you do in your match?” but “How did you act?” Eventually, Blake recalls, his parents convinced him of one thing: “If I was going to take this ‘it’s me against the world’ attitude, then that’s just what it would be. Nobody would cheer for me or want me to win.”

Once Blake grasped the implications of his behavior, his results improved. And while never classified as a can’t-miss prodigy à la Hewitt or Andre Agassi, he soon became a highly rated college prospect.

And not just any college.
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