Australian Open: James Blake Borrows Hope from Big Blue
Like his beloved New York Giants, James Blake just keeps marching on.
No one expected him to still be here in the second week of the Australian Open, much less the last standing American in the men's draw.
But, like Big Blue confounded everyone to qualify for Super Bowl XLII, Blake has thrived, being cast as the unfashionable underdog.
At 28, Blake is easily the oldest man into the final eight. He now has a quarter-final appointment with Roger Federer, a man he has never beaten in seven attempts.
Could he spring a surprise?
Let’s just say his Giants have a better chance against New England.
In fact, Australian betting agencies rate Blake only a $9 chance, an astonishing figure in a two-horse race.
Still, the fact Blake is still alive—both in this tournament and in the literal sense—is cause for acclaim.
Blake had to give the game up as a youth after developing scoliosis, a condition which forced him to wear a back brace for long periods.
He went on to carve out an impressive professional career but in 2004, snapped his neck while colliding with a net post during practice.
His father died the same year and then, in a last insult, Blake developed shingles which paralyzed half his face.
He recovered to reach number four in the world and win another nine singles titles (giving him 10 overall, all of them hard court) making for an amazing and inspiring story.
It is the journey of a man for whom the outcome of any match—up to and including a Grand Slam quarter final against the world's best player—is nothing to get too worked up about.
“I’m already so proud of my career that I won’t worry about it at all,” said Blake, Harvard-educated, though clad in a North Carolina Tar Heels baseball cap, in front of reporters yesterday.
“I mean, to have been at a point once where a doctor laughed at my idea of being a pro tennis player to being in a situation in 2004 of them telling me I’m probably never going to play again...to be in the second week of a Grand Slam at all is pretty impressive.”
Blake’s run at the Australian Open has had plenty in common with the man he now faces.
While Federer was pulling out a five-set miracle against Janko Tipsarevic, Blake’s escape in the same round against Sebastian Gosjean was even more impressive. He managed to come back from two sets to love down.
And while Federer rebounded in straight sets in the round of 16, so did Blake against Croatian Marin Cilic, a 6-3 6-4 6-4 decision that preserved his aging legs.
If, as one would assume, Blake finally follows script and succumbs to Federer, it can only be hoped it isn’t the American’s last time here.
A true gentleman like Pat Rafter and Stefan Edberg before him, the tour will lose some of its shine when he hangs up the racquet.
“It seems like I’m still living a dream. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling of it being abnormal. I know how abnormal my job is. I know how surreal my life is. I know how lucky I am to be here.”
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