Q&A with USTA Foundation Chairman James Blake

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February 18, 2015 02:03 PM

By McCarton Ackerman, USTAFoundation.com

Former world No. 4 and Davis Cup stalwart James Blake was appointed earlier this month as the chairman of the board of directors of the USTA Foundation, the USTA’s national charitable organization. Blake said the Foundation's emphasis on tennis and education spoke to him as a former NJTL pupil and as a student-athlete who attended Harvard University for two years, where he reached No. 1 in the NCAA rankings before turning pro in 1999.

After formally announcing his new role during the Memphis Open, an ATP World Tour event, Blake spoke with USTAFoundation.com about his memories playing as a child in the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program, life after the pro tour and what he hopes to accomplish with his new position.

How did your new role with the USTA Foundation come about?

They just asked me. That’s about all it took. When I heard about the position and how the USTA Foundation combines tennis and education, I wanted to be involved because that’s extremely important to me. Part of what factored into my decision to leave school (two years into his stint at Harvard) is the belief you can keep learning throughout your life, no matter what position you’re in. Tennis and education have been huge parts of my life, so trying to give it a little more notoriety and hopefully raise some funds for a positive influence was a no-brainer.

Did you expect that you would remain in tennis when you retired? Or did that come as a surprise?

When I retired, I knew I wanted to take six months to a year off. I always thought that meant it would be playing golf and relaxing, but life got in the way and it meant changing diapers and spending time with my family, which was much more rewarding. Once I had that time off and this opportunity presented itself, I realized that I missed many parts of the game. I wasn’t watching or playing as much tennis, so getting back into it made me realize how much I loved the sport and will continue to love it for the rest of my life. It would be foolish to deny that, so this position is a way to stay involved and hopefully do it in a very positive way.

Now that you’re experiencing life as a parent, what do you think some of the benefits of tennis are for kids?

Tennis is a lifetime sport. My mom is 80 years old and still plays once or twice a week. My daughter is 2-and-a-half years old and she’s already got a racquet. It gives them a reason to get outside and be active, which is so important to me. We’re fighting what seems to be an epidemic with childhood obesity, so I know that I’ll be sure to stress tennis or some other sport with my kids.

What memories do you have of being in the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program?

The main thing is the volunteers. My dad was one of them, which was one of the reasons I first ended up there, as well as other volunteers Dante Brown and (current USTA President) Katrina Adams. It was just a feeling of camaraderie because everyone was genuinely happy to be out on the court and doing something they loved. That’s a feeling which can’t be duplicated. And on top of that, you had great tennis. Every Sunday we were either playing as a family or down at the Harlem Junior Tennis Program, so there’s a lot of great memories.

More top juniors have been pursuing college tennis instead of turning pro right after high school. What are your thoughts on this?

Growing up, I didn’t realize that I’d be able to get as far as I did in the tennis world, so my goal for a while was just to play on a college team. One thing my coach told me early on was that a lot of players are going to burn out, so the most important thing for kids is to be happy with how they play and how far it might take them. Whether their talent gets them to No. 5 on their high school team or the final of the US Open, be proud of it and enjoy the ride. We can all enjoy tennis no matter what our level is, so I love that the goal for some can be getting a college education. That can even be more valuable than winning the US Open because you can use your mind for the rest of your life.  

 

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