B/R Interview: James Blake Talks About His Charity Work and the Tennis Community

Ash MarshallSenior Analyst INovember 10, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 25:  James Blake attends the 12th Annual BNP Paribas Taste of Tennis at W New York Hotel on August 25, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Donald Bowers/Getty Images for BNP Paribas)
Donald Bowers/Getty Images

American tennis star James Blake returns to New York City on Nov. 28 to hold a charity fundraising event close to his heart.

The former World No. 4 is hosting the seventh annual Serving For a Cure to raise awareness and funding for cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the hospital that treated his father, Thomas, who died of gastric cancer in 2004.

“The tennis community is unbelievable because we have such a long season…but that short offseason we have is jam-packed with events,” James told Bleacher Report in a conference call Thursday. “Andy Roddick has an event, Mardy Fish does an event, John Isner does an event. Everyone really is committed to giving back with how lucky we feel to be out on the tour and be competing and doing something we love. We all want to give back.

“For me, tennis has been the vehicle. It’s been more important what I’ve done off the court, I hope. It’s given me the voice to do things like this. If I was sitting at a nine-to-five job in front of a computer people may not be interested in the story at all because they wouldn’t have got to know me through my trials and tribulations on the court. There are things that go on in a pro athlete’s life besides just on the court."

The event at Jazz at Lincoln Center will be presented by Empire BlueCross BlueShield and The James Blake Foundation, which invests vital seed money at the leading-edge of science to speed up the most promising work, and shortens the time it takes for discoveries at the lab bench to become better treatments at patients' bedsides.

Emceed by actor Justin Long of Dodgeball and Live Free or Die Hard fame, the evening will feature a musical performance by Rolling Stone “Artist to Watch,” Brett Dennen, a cocktail hour with athletes and celebrities, a fast serve contest and a ping-pong challenge where guests will have the opportunity to take on James and multiple Grand Slam champion Jim Courier in a game of table tennis.

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NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 30:  James Blake of the United States returns a shot against Jesse Huta Galung of Netherlands during Day Two of the 2011 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 30, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of t
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All of the net proceeds from the event will benefit the Thomas Blake, Sr., Memorial Research Fund. To date, Blake has raised more than $2 million through his exhibitions, fundraisers, J-Block merchandise sales and donations to support research into the early detection and screening of cancer. A portion of those proceeds have benefited MSKCC, the world’s oldest and largest private institution devoted to prevention, patient care, research and education in cancer.

“I am grateful to be able to once again host a fundraiser to help support a cause that is close to my heart,” said Blake, an All-American at Harvard University who began playing tennis at the age of five. “This will mark the seventh year of what has been an incredibly fun and successful event, and I want to invite everyone to come out for a memorable evening that will benefit such an important cause.”

Past events have featured numerous celebrities and athletes such as Hall of Famer Andre Agassi, superstars Serena Williams and Andy Roddick and world-renowned musical artists John Mayer, Gavin DeGraw and Wyclef Jean.

“It just shows that we’ll all support each other,” James added. “I’ve had Sam Querry at my event  before, I’ve had Mardy Fish, I’ve had Serena Williams, I’ve had Andre Aggasi. I’ve had so many guys’ support it shows how much they care about helping others and about helping each other.

“It’s funny because it’s a sport that’s so unique that you’re in the same locker room with the person you’re about to compete against. You might be playing your best friend and want to beat him as badly as you can but then you have to go back to being friends. To be so directly competitive and still supportive of each other is very unique. I think it shows great character by the players and how much we want to help each other. Anyone that happens to be in New York will help out and that shows just how much tennis players care.”

The 31-year-old started the year ranked 135th in the world, but he climbed back into the top 100 with a pair of Challenger Tour titles at Sarasota and Winnetka and a second-place finish in Sacramento. He also made it to the third round of Washington and Cincinnati and the second round of the US Open, finishing the season at No. 59. But his achievements on the court often take a back seat to his charity commitments off it.

“[Tennis has] really given me a voice to do this and to be relevant for people to make a connection with me and my family,” said James, an active volunteer at the Harlem Junior Tennis Program — the very place he learned to play tennis. “This endeavor has been very important to my family that makes it so I want to keep going. I thought it was going to be a one-time thing, but all my friends and family have made it so it has continued and I am really proud of it.”

Mark Wagar, president and CEO of Empire BlueCross BlueShield, added: "We are very pleased to support the James Blake Foundation and the Thomas Blake, Sr., Memorial Research Fund at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The money raised at this event provides crucial investment funding for cancer research — research necessary to break new ground toward new and more effective treatments, medical discoveries and improved patient outcomes.”

For more information and to order tickets to Serving For A Cure, visit www.jamesblakefoundation.com.

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