James Blake said he’ll retire after the U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that included 10 singles titles and a career-high ranking of No. 4 on the ATP World Tour.
“I don’t want to be dragged out of this game,” Blake, a 33-year-old American, said at a news conference at the National Tennis Center in New York, where the season’s final Grand Slam tournament began today.
“There’s so many athletes that say they can never replace that feeling of having an adrenaline rush, but I get more of an adrenaline rush these days seeing my daughter wake up in the morning,” Blake said, trying not to cry. “Despite the tears, I’m actually really happy about this.”
With a 1-year-old daughter, Blake said, he has no immediate plans for retirement, other than to work on his golf game and change some diapers.
He enters his final tournament with a 366-255 singles record and having won seven doubles titles, including one in February. He’s amassed $7.9 million in combined singles and doubles earnings.
Blake said he considered retiring in April 2012 after struggling to recover from knee surgery and a shoulder injury, but wanted to do it on his own terms. His goals were never to achieve a particular ranking, only to continually improve and be content with what he had accomplished when he put down his racket, he said.
“I’ve had 14 pretty darn good years on tour,” Blake said.
He reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open in 2005 and 2006, and did it again in the 2008 Australian Open. Those were his deepest advances in 41 previous Grand Slam appearances.
Blake had to wear a back brace for 18 hours a day as a teenager to combat scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, and he overcame several injuries during his career.
In 2004, he broke his neck while practicing for a clay-court tournament in Rome, and his father died that year, leading to a case of the shingles that left half his face temporarily paralyzed. Blake said he almost retired in each of those cases.
“I was millimeters from breaking my neck in a way that would have left me paralyzed for the rest of my life,” he said. “When that happened and I was able to get back in a few months, I knew how lucky I was.”
He reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open 16 months after the neck injury, calling his memorable five-set match against eventual runner-up Andre Agassi “the biggest highlight and lowlight at the same time.”
Blake, who beat second-seeded Rafael Nadal en route to the quarterfinals, won the first two sets against Agassi 6-3, 6-3, before dropping the next two 3-6, 3-6. Agassi won the final-set tiebreaker 8-6.
“We both left our absolute best out there on the court,” Blake said, content that he came up two points short of winning the match. “That’s just greedy. That night was great for tennis.”
Blake said the e-mails and text messages he’s received from friends in the last 24 hours, after news of his retirement circulated, echoed the sentiments he heard in 2004.
“It doesn’t matter if I win another tennis match ever again, I’m a friend,” the correspondence has said, according to Blake. “So I’m lucky.”
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