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You’ve Just Been Served!: James Blake Keeps Hope Alive for Black Tennis Pros

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 7/19/2013, 9:42 a.m.
Black tennis pro James Blake.

It’s not “game, set, match” just yet for the most accomplished Black man playing on the pro tennis circuit.

James Blake, who left Harvard University ranked as the nation’s No. 1 collegiate player 13 years ago, still believes he’s got enough fuel in the tank to win tournaments and inspire the next generation of Black youth to excel in the sport.

 “I’m going to keep on playing as long as I enjoy it and as long as I’m a relevant competitor,” said Blake, 33, who exited this month’s Wimbledon tournament after the second round.

The New York Times recently issued a piece questioning Blake’s big-money-earning  prospects in the sport where younger and taller international stars grab the spotlight and the top prize money.

But Blake, is still listed as a featured entrant in the BB&T Atlanta Open taking place at Atlantic Station July 20 through 28.

Blake, reached by phone at the Hall of Fame Classic in Newport, R.I., where he’d just been defeated  by a younger and sturdier European player (Albert Ramos), spoke as rapidly as his classic serve and volley in an exclusive AV  interview.

He said the hard-baked surface at the BB&T tourney works to his strengths and that the tourney should serve him well in preparation for the U.S. Open (August 26 through September 9) in New York.

But, most importantly, Blake discussed his place as a generational role model. With the exception of Arthur Ashe, and 1996 Wimbledon runner-up Malavai Washington, very few Black men have succeeded as players and endorsers as much has Blake has.

Humbly, he puts the achivements of the Williams sisters (Venus and Serena) on a much higher plateau than his own.

“What they’ve done in their careers to inspire more kids to play the game is exceptional,” Blake said.

Blake, who has 10 singles tournament victories to his credit and an overall record of 362-250 in pro tournament matches – in spite of serious injuries and ailments and the death of his career-fostering father _ has that unfinished degree from Harvard and a career earnings total of nearly $8 million to fall back on once he does decide to hang up his racket.

“Right now I still feel good,” he said when asked to describe the current state of his game. “I’m not as consistent as I was a few year ago, but I still feel I can compete at that elite level. Just not as consistently. Hopefully, it’s only a matter of time where there will be that one week where everything clicks.

“The body’s not reacting as well as it used to one tournament after another,” he added. “It’s tougher to recover now than when I was in my mid-twenties.”

Depending on the BB&T tournament draw, Blake may be confronted by the “next” great Black tennis player: Nathan Pasha, the University of Georgia sophomore sensation who was raised in Atlanta and has a 66-23 record as a collegian in singles play.

“He’s a good kid,” Blake said of Pasha. “He’s got a lot of talent. He’s very fast, he’s a big guy. It just might take him a little while longer to realize his full potential.”

When asked how he’d advise parents with kids who exhibit strong potential as tennis players, Blake suggested a low-pressure approach.

“The first thing is to make sure the kids are having fun,” he said. “And exercise should be the main goal. Let them have fun and get better at their own pace. As they get older, maybe then they’ll need a little push. Let the kids find out how good they can be. And then turn them over to a great coach.”

For more info about the BB&T Atlanta Open, visit: http://www.bbtatlantaopen.com/