Losing to Roger Federer at the 2003 U.S. Open
And winning in Lisbon
against Frederico Gil
Blake faced and overcame in 2004. Blake
didn’t just come back. he came back
stronger than ever, nearly to the top of
the world men’s tennis rankings just two
years after his string of setbacks. now,
with time running out on his career—the
retirement age of a professional male
tennis player is early to mid-30s—he’s
determined to accomplish something
he’s never done: win a major at the U.s.
open. if he does, the personal statement
will come full circle, as he has nothing
but fond memories of the tournament
going back to childhood.
“i loved going to the U.s. open as a
kid,” he says. “i’d go to the early rounds
and watch stefan edberg and appreciate
his style and grace. then i’d see Jim courier and admire his grit. he looked like he’d
work the game harder than anyone on the
court. John mcenroe was playing there,
too. it was after his peak but it was still
mcenroe. then there was andre agassi in
his long hair and pink spandex stage.
“i guess i still owe the open folks
some money, because my friends and i
would sneak in past the guards without
paying. We’d start off high in the stands,
and then get lower and lower as the
matches went on.”
timothy a. clary/Getty; francisco leon G/Getty
thomas, was a tennis enthusiast and
successful salesman for a tech company.
on weekends, Blake and his brother,
thomas Jr., played with their parents in
spirited doubles matches.
his early professional career had its
struggles. he spent time in the sport’s
minor-league challenger level, working
with his longtime coach, Brian Barker.
Barker, cut from the Phil Jackson “Zen
master” school of tutelage, prefers
teaching to shouting and discussion to
intimidation. Barker often gave Blake
books to read, and one, The Way of the
Peaceful Warrior, remains a favorite of