Crimson Tennis Star Blake Becomes Pro

James R. Blake '01, the nation's No. 1 ranked college player in the 1998-99 season, gave up playing for the Crimson last month to play for the green.

Blake, who was The Crimson's Male Athlete of the Year, competed this week as a pro at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, a grass-court tournament in Newport, R.I., beating a former Wimbledon finalist in his debut.

Overcoming early jitters against Mali-Vai Washington, the 1996 Wimbledon runner-up, Blake defeated his boyhood idol, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 Monday in the first round.

"After the first set, I told myself to stop worrying and have fun," Blake told the Associated Press earlier this week.

Blake's second round opponent Wednesday was a lanky Dane named Kenneth Carlsen. Blake could not recapture the magic he had against Washington, falling to the No. 109 player in the world, 6-3, 6-4.


Washington reached No. 11 in the international rankings at the height of his career in October 1992. At age 30, he is currently No. 401 and said, after succumbing to Blake, that he will soon be reevaluating his future in tennis.

Blake, a Fairfield, Conn., native and former Mather House resident, is currently No. 448 in the world although that will likely change once he gets more tournament experience under his belt. The ranking system is based on players' performance over the last year.

No. 440 Tom Blake '98, James' brother, also played in the Rhode Island tournament, winning a qualifying match against former top player David Wheaton, the tournament's 1994 champion.

So Long, Harvard

Blake's decision to turn pro, in addition to taking away his collegiate athletic eligibility, likely will mean some time off from the textbooks as well.

"The policy [at Harvard] is that you can come back at any time, so I can do it," Blake, who is an economics concentrator, told The Crimson earlier in the year. "It would definitely be nice to finish and it would be different because I wouldn't have the tennis and would be able to concentrate even more on my studies."

"He probably doesn't know if he'll be coming back himself," said Paul McNeeley, assistant director of athletics for sports media relations. "He's foregone his eligibility, so he couldn't come back and play tennis, but he's always got the

opportunity to come back and get his degree."

By choosing to attend college first, Blake will be at a slight disadvantage against players his own age who turned pro straight out of high school.

"I just want to play in as many tournaments as I can because I don't really have the match experience that most of the players my age have," Blake said. "But I don't want to go in with any expectations of what ranking I want to reach or anything. I'm just going to have fun and learn a lot."

In the months before his decision, Blake said that it would be difficult to say good-bye to many of the people he knew at Harvard.