James Blake finds off court role as dad is best yet
When he formally retired from tennis almost two years ago and put the tennis racquets away, James Blake truly put them away.
“I didn’t touch one for a long, long time,” he said.
After an electric 14-year professional career, where he climbed as high as the No. 4 player in the world, Blake, who grew up in Fairfield and attended Fairfield High School, said goodbye to the sport after the 2013 U.S. Open and said hello to the new role of dad.
Since then, he’s played the role of chauffer, dishwasher, cereal bowl filler and has mastered the role of diaper changer.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at that (diapers),” Blake said recently at the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven, where he was to announce the second “men’s legends” event where he will play Andy Roddick on Aug. 27 during the Connecticut Open Tennis tournament. “My other job is garbage, I’m good at that and folding clothes. I’m not allowed to actually do the laundry because I mess that up. But I can fold them and put them away, I can do that.”
But … can he fold a fitted sheet?
“No. That’s too advanced,” he said, smiling. “That’s laundry calculus. That’s way above my pay grade.”
So in the meantime, Blake will continue to take Riley, who’s 3, to school and change Emma, who’s 1, and enjoy every moment of parenthood.
“That’s what’s filling my days is those kids and it’s been so much fun,” he said. “I’ve been really, really lucky to have this time. I’m the one dad in the mom’s group stuff and hanging out with them in the Kidville classes and stuff. It’s been a joy.”
Since retirement, Blake has pulled out the racquets occasionally to play in the Power Shares Series against guys like Roddick and John McEnroe, Michael Chang, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. And while it’s not as intense as it was when these players battled each other tooth and nail on the ATP Tour, it’s pretty close.
This spring, Blake played in nine events in the Power Shares Series. After the event at the Connecticut Tennis Center, Blake is likely to play in an exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall in London in early December. After that? Blake is open to anything, including getting back into the game.
“I’m starting to think and talk about getting back into tennis,” he said. “I’m going to start talking to some people about maybe creating a (tennis) academy, getting back into tennis in some way. I thought about getting (totally) out of tennis but I realized how much tennis has done for me and how much I’d think I’d like to be still a part of it.”
Blake won 10 career titles, including the 2005 and 2007 Pilot Pen events in New Haven. He reached the quarterfinals in both the Australian Open and the U.S. Open and the third round at the French Open and Wimbledon. He played in the 2008 Summer Olympics, finishing fourth. His career record was 366-256.
Blake’s best season on tour came in 2006 when he won five times and rose to No. 4 in the ATP rankings.
“My career was as good I could have ever hoped for,” he said.
Blake learned the game at the Harlem (N.Y.) Tennis Program from his father, Thomas, and the 35-year-old is thinking about creating a tennis academy where he can teach the game.
“It’s all still in the early stages but I’m thinking that I want to stay in tennis instead of starting at square one in something else,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind doing something there (in Fairfield County). We’ve got some OK weather here, but not 12 months out of the year, so I might look at someplace where the weather’s good 12 months out of the year.”
What about coaching?
“If that happens it would be way down the road,” he said. “I don’t want to travel 30 weeks out of the year, especially now. I’m so lucky to be with my kids, especially at this age. I’ve talked to a lot of older parents who’ve all said their one regret was missing out on their kids (growing up). I’m lucky that I don’t have to work from 7 a.m. until 7 at night, so I don’t want to coach now. But 10 years down the road when they’re tired of me and they’re embarrassed by what I’m wearing or what I’m doing, then maybe I’ll get back on the road.”
One thing that Blake will continue to do is be involved with the Connecticut Open, a tournament that is near and dear to his heart.
“The state of Connecticut has meant so much to me. I’ve been here since I was 6 years old and I’m proud to be involved with this tournament,” he said. “Being close to home and being a tennis player, this was something I always looked forward to as a kid and as a player.”