Ten Minutes With James Blake
Bounced back from a broken neck to win the ATP World Tour’s Comeback Player of the Year award.
James Blake excelled in the sport while battling severe scoliosis as a teenager, had to balance competitive athletics with equally competitive academics at Harvard University and, even after turning pro his sophomore year, bounced back from a broken neck to win the ATP World Tour’s Comeback Player of the Year award in 2005. Now 33, Blake is a husband, a new father, and still ranked as one of the top 100 tennis players in the world, according to ESPN.
After graduating from Fairfield High School you went on to study at Harvard University. Not an institution known for churning out professional athletes, is it?
I don’t think anybody would expect any sort of pro athlete to come out of Harvard and I honestly probably didn’t expect it either.
College athletes have a reputation for skating by in school, but I imagine that wasn’t the case with you.
No, not at all. I had to take a three-hour final even though the night before I had played in the NCAA finals on the road in Georgia. The school made us take the test at the same time they were taking it back on campus. All the other kids at the NCAA laughed at the fact that I would have to do that.
Growing up you were friends with another famous Fairfielder – John Mayer. Do you two still stay in touch?
We still get along great. It’s pretty crazy that we were actually as close as we were growing up and both of us have sort of turned into public figures…We’d be sitting in my basement and he’d be messing around with a guitar and I’d be messing around with a tennis racket and now that’s what we do for a living. It’s come full circle. It’s so cool to see a friend of yours have that much success and is now an icon.
If you hadn’t played tennis, what would you have done?
I always loved sports and thought I would have loved to do something in sports marketing. I also thought of possibly being an agent, but after seeing how much my agent has to put up with, dealing with all these crazy athletes, I don’t think it would be for me.
Who were some of your favorite players as a kid?
Jim Courier—I felt like he worked harder than anybody else. And I liked Stefan Edberg because I was definitely a bit of a brat when I was a kid and I didn’t understand how someone could be that good and not show any emotion.
You spent much of your career living in Florida, but you recently moved back to the area.
Yes, in the middle of my career I bought a place in Fairfield that I came back to every time I got the chance. On our third or fourth date I made it clear to my wife that no matter what happens in my career, when I’m done, I want to finish and come back to this area.
What do you love most about tennis?
I definitely love the individual aspect of tennis, where you have no one to blame but yourself. I like the problem solving aspect of it. You don’t have a coach in your ear all the time. You don’t have teammates that you’re counting on. You’re counting on yourself.