An Open Letter to James Blake

Julian JohnsonCorrespondent IJuly 13, 2009

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 22:  James Blake of USA reacts during the men's singles first round match against Andreas Seppi of Italy on Day One of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 22, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)


You have mad talent, son! A fast set of wheels, wrapped around a concussive forehand, a solid, potent backhand, a mighty serve, fundamentally sound volleys. But so far, the parts are far greater than the sum.


What component in your makeup causes you to believe that you should be an also-ran, an afterthought, "background," as author Toni Morrison describes it, "to somebody else's foreground?"

Make no mistake: The problem emanates between the earlobes and within that dense muscle in the middle of your chestas does the solution.

From reading, hearing, or seeing numerous interviews of yours, you made a decision years ago to be...a sidekick, a happy runner-up, a graceful, perfectly charming loser.

The term loser stings, but in this context, it's meant to. The prodigious talent that you possess is being frittered away by what exactly: A misplaced sense of loyalty, honor, both, neither? There are many coaching minds and talents available that could turn your game around; why not avail yourself of them?

Are you really willing to pay the price—in growing pains, in change, and in work? Are you worth it? I think that you are.

Let's take a look at your Davis Cup homie, A-Rod, for example. Here's a player whose game and "personality" I have always despised: the grotesque forehand, the "Tin Man" backhand, the one-note serve, and especially, the slavish media hype and his concomitant arrogance.

He thinks HE'S Roger Federer?!

Here's a guy who, aside from his serve, is your inferior in every other department. Yet today, I must tip my hat to this man and shout out bravos and accolades from the nearest mountaintop. Why?

Because Andy Roddick has left no stone unturned in milking every last drop of talent from his limited gene pool and guess what?! Its worked. Criticized for his "coaching carousel," the discriminating eye sees a willing, desperate student, who has grown from every guide. And was that not the point—to grow?!

A mere glance at your game, at your body, shows stasis, mechanically, tactically, physically, this, as the sands of time are rapidly falling through the hourglass. Standing still while others pass you by is actually regression.

I actually found myself torn, conflicted, actually rooting for Roddick to win Wimbledon, picturing what his celebration would be like, how many tears would flow, how deserving a champion he is. Champion.

I may not like A-Rod, but my respect for him today is immense. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for you...yet.

They say that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The great Bill Tilden said "never change a winning game; but always change a losing one." I know from brutal life experience that sometimes change has to be grabbed while plummeting through the floorboards...or else.

Clearly, James, now is the time.

Forgive my harsh tone; it may be tough, but it is love. I've only wanted to emphasize "the fierce urgency of NOW" and the immense talent that you possess. My great hope is that after this weekend's Davis Cup debacle, you will be willing, like Andy Roddick, to do something, extremely, uncomfortably, amazingly, powerfully, different.

As my grandfather liked to say: "It can be done." Because it was. And you can, too.