We needed a thread for this
From the Providence newspaper.......
On the Courts by Mike Szostak: Blake tries to regain elite status
NEWPORT -- Finally fit after a year of a scary injury and illness, James Blake has begun the long haul to rejoin the tennis elite.
You remember James Blake, the one-time New England Wonder Boy who started hitting tennis balls in Harlem as a kid; moved with his family to Fairfield, Conn.; followed his All-American brother Thomas to Harvard, where he became an All-American; bid farewell to the Crimson in 1999 after his sophomore season and a runner-up finish at the NCAA Championships; won his first ATP Tour title in 2002; earned his highest ranking, No. 22, in 2003, and broke his neck while crashing into a net post in Rome in 2004.
Well, Blake, now 25, is back on the ATP Tour, determined to improve his ranking, eager to do well on clay and grass in Europe and excited to return to Newport for the Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis championships in July.
Blake was in town Tuesday to mingle and have lunch with tournament sponsors and box holders, smile for photographs, sign autographs and answer questions from his fans during a relaxed Q&A session led by WHJJ's Steve McDonald.
Always gracious, and always grateful to Hall of Fame boss Mark Stenning for giving him a break when he was a collegiate star and a struggling young pro, Blake was great. He charmed everyone with his personality and impressed all with his thoughtful responses. He earned a round of sympathetic applause after describing his father's influence on him before he died of cancer last July.
Blake has committed to the Hall of Fame tournament July 4-10. This will be his seventh consecutive appearance at the Newport Casino.
"Why would anyone not want to come back? This is a beautiful place, and it's so much fun," he said.
When Blake returns with his pals Robby Ginepri, Jeff Morrison and Mardy Fish -- Jurgen Melzer, Justin Gimelstob and Vince Spadea also have entered -- he hopes his ATP entry ranking is higher than his current No. 189. His ranking tumbled last year while he recovered from a broken vertebra in his neck, suffered when he tumbled into a net post while practicing in Rome in March, and from zoster, an inflammatory nerve disease than can affect hearing and vision.
After his neck injury, he played only Newport, Washington, D.C., and Delray Beach, Fla. He missed Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Having recovered from zoster, he started working on his conditioning and was ready for the start of the 2005 campaign in January. He played a tournament in Aukland, New Zealand, and lost to Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in the first round. He fell to Lleyton Hewitt in the second round of the Australian Open.
Back home, he lost first-round matches in Delray Beach and San Jose and a second-round match in Memphis. Playing in the desert, he reached the third round at Indian Wells and the quarterfinals at Scottsdale in February. He reached the quarterfinals again this month at the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston.
"I feel I'm back on the level I want to be in terms of fitness," he said. "In terms of tennis, I feel I'm hitting the ball great, but I've lost three '6-in-the-third' matches. I know that's a matter of not playing. I don't feel comfortable on the big points. I feel that when I win one, they'll start coming in bunches."
Blake's tough three-set losses occurred to Nicolas Lapentti in the quarterfinals at Houston, 7-6 (3); to Fish in the first round at Memphis, 7-6 (7), and to Carlos Moya in the second round at Key Biscayne, Fla., 7-6 (6).
Blake plans to play Challenger tournaments in Robinsville, Miss., and Forest Hills, N.Y., to boost his ranking and then head to France for the French Open qualifier in mid-May.
"I haven't had to play the qualies since 2001, so this will be a new experience," he said.
Then it will be on to England for the brief grass-court season. He is counting on his dual citizenship -- his mother is British -- to help earn a wild card or two. After Wimbledon, he will return to Newport, his "home" turf on the pro tour.