James Blake’s Tennis Career Ends With Five-Set U.S. Open Loss

James Blake said he’ll focus on the positives from his 14-year professional tennis career rather than the U.S. Open loss that sent him into retirement.

Blake, 33, blew a two-set lead against Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in a first-round match that ended early this morning at the National Tennis Center in New York. He lost the decisive fifth set in a tiebreaker 7-2.

“It was pretty much in my hands at times and I felt like I gave them away,” Blake told reporters. “That’s frustrating, but it’s one match. I lost 200 something over my career. It’s not a fun way to do it, but only one guy is holding the trophy at the end of this two weeks.”

Blake said earlier this week that he’d retire after the U.S. Open, ending a career that included 10 singles titles and a career-high ranking of No. 4 on the ATP World Tour. He leaves with a 366-256 singles record and amassed $7.9 million in combined singles and doubles earnings.

He said he’d miss playing in front of big crowds.

“I’m never going to have 15,000, 20,000 people cheering for me, chanting U-S-A, screaming my name,” said Blake, who entered the U.S. Open ranked 100th. “I’m lucky enough to have had that for 14 years. I try to look at the positives. Most people in the world will never be able to relate to that.”

Born in Yonkers, New York, and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, Blake studied economics at Harvard University before becoming a professional tennis player.

Injury-Marred Career

Blake overcame several injuries during his career, including when he suffered a broken bone in his neck while practicing for a 2004 clay-court tournament in Rome. His father also died that year, leading to a case of shingles that left half of Blake’s face temporarily paralyzed. Blake said he almost retired in each of those cases.

He came back to reach the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open in 2005 and 2006, and got to the last eight at the 2008 Australian Open, his deepest advances in 42 Grand Slam tournament appearances. Blake said earlier this week 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.

“I’m lucky enough to have done what I’ve done in my career to give me some security and flexibility with what I want to do with the rest of my life,” Blake said.

Saying Goodbye

After his three hour, 24-minute loss to Karlovic, Blake thanked the fans at Louis Armstrong Stadium who stayed until after midnight. He won the first two sets before losing three in a row.

“The fact that he was up two sets and lost, that’s probably one of the reasons he’s stepping away,” said 18-time Grand Slam singles champion Chris Evert, now an analyst for ESPN. “It wasn’t there when he called up on it. That’s when you know it’s time to say goodbye to the game.”

Blake said his immediate retirement plans are limited, mostly revolving around his 1-year-old daughter and improving his golf game.

“I’ll go back to being a normal person that doesn’t have people cheering for him,” Blake said. “Just changing diapers and hoping to get 18 holes in on a given day. That’s OK with me.”