After losing in the first round of the 2013 U.S. Open early Thursday morning, 33-year-old James Blake retired from tennis. It was a bitter way to go out for the American standout, as he blew a two-set lead and lost the last two in tiebreakers.
Despite never winning a Grand Slam title—and not winning a singles event since 2007—Blake walks away from the sport with a successful career under his belt, defined by rallying back from adversity and incredible peaks.
The tournament's official Twitter gave him a fitting tribute after his 6-7 (2), 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2) loss to Ivo Karlovic:
Blake was once ranked as high as No. 4 in the world in late 2006. Howard Bryant of ESPN alluded to the historical significance of this in American tennis, noting that Andy Roddick is the only American in the past decade to be ranked higher:
On Monday, Blake officially announced that this would be the final event of his career.
A Grand Slam triumph was unfortunately never quite in the cards for Blake, primarily due to the ascents of all-time great contemporaries such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
It got even harder to stay near the top when players like Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray came to the forefront in recent years.
With that being said, Blake was able to beat Federer as recently as 2008, in the Summer Olympics in Beijing—only to be bested by Fernando Gonzalez and Djokovic thereafter to settle for fourth, just shy of the podium.
Blake should ultimately be remembered for the immense resilience he displayed when his career was in doubt multiple times.
In his early days, Blake suffered from scoliosis, and had to wear a back brace 18 hours a day. That didn't stop him from bursting onto the scene, as he won his first singles title at the Citi Open in 2002.
However, yet another severe setback would follow and threaten his status as a player.
During a 2004 practice match in Rome, Blake charged toward the net to get to a drop shot, but he slid on the clay surface, fell and collided with the net post. He sustained a broken neck.
Something as serious as that could have derailed his dreams of playing professional tennis entirely. Instead, Blake bounced back, notching his second title the following year in New Haven.
Thereafter was Blake's best stretch of tennis, when he won seven more titles in a short span, capped by a January 2007 win at the tournament formerly known as the Medibank International in Sydney.
Blake posted his best results at the U.S. Open in that time frame, making the quarterfinals in 2005 and 2006, losing a five-setter to Andre Agassi on the brink of the semis in the first of those two years.
In that match, Blake squandered a two-set lead—just as he did against Karlovic, who smashed 38 aces on his counterpart, who simply couldn't move like he used to.
As Blake's career came closer to an end, a nagging knee injury that required surgery in November 2011 deprived him of his lightning-quick feet. That agility and nimbleness consistently put him in proper position to capitalize on his powerful game and manhandle opponents.
There was a time when Blake had one of the most powerful groundstrokes in the game, but when his knee started to give way, he could have easily walked away from the game.
Instead, Blake decided to continue fighting.
Although he never came close to replicating his prior success or winning a Grand Slam trophy, his efforts in the context of his unlikely longevity will allow him to leave a lasting legacy.
Note: Statistics and information are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com.
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