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Since leaving behind the Ivy gates, James Blake ’01, formerly of the Harvard men’s tennis team, has gone on to carve a niche for himself in the ranks of the ATP tour. Widely touted as one of the world’s rising stars, Blake can currently be seen competing at the Australian Open, the first of the year’s four major tournaments.
After advancing over No. 7 Carlos Moya in the first round, Blake dispatched Nicholas Lapentti in four sets to advance to the third round, where he currently awaits his next opponent.
Staff writer David Weinfeld had the opportunity to sit down with Blake last summer about his time at Harvard.
The Harvard Crimson: You lived in Mather. If they had put you in Adams House or one of the nice river Houses, would you have stayed longer at Harvard?
James Blake: Actually Mather House was one of my first choices. It was one of the few houses that had a gym, and my brother was there. I knew all about it. Of course, some of the girls in our blocking group were upset. But I really liked Mather House.
THC: What do you miss about Harvard?
JB: I miss having my best friends in the same dorm room, or down the hall. I miss everyone being so close. I miss being able to go to practice with my teammates. Now everyone’s graduated and they have moved far away. I miss the camaraderie. That’s why I joined the AD.
THC: What class did you like?
JB: I really liked sociology. I liked Black Cinema as Genre, because you got to watch a lot of movies. I liked Moral Reasoning: Justice. I was an economics major, but the only economics class I took was Ec 10. If I go back, I’ll probably change to sociology. I took economics because I was planning on going to business school, but that plan got derailed a bit.
THC: You know there’s been an effort to create a more liberal alternative to Ec 10. How do you feel about that?
JB: That sounds about right. But then again, who am I to argue with the deans of Harvard University?
THC: Do you have any fond memories of being in a final club?
JB: Yeah, my brother was in the AD, so I was really excited about joining. I remember the month long waiting period before you found out if you got in. The night I got in was one of my most memorable. You know, the night they come in, wake you up, wreck your room and tell you that you got in. Well I woke up in the middle of the night, and they hadn’t come yet, and I was a little bit worried that I wouldn’t get in. You know, I’d have been all embarrassed, going to practice and seeing my brother and my teammates having not gotten in. But it turned out that I was just one of the last people on the list, and they had been partying all night, so they only came to see me at about 5 a.m, and then they destroyed my room.
THC: What impresses people more, the fact that you are a pro tennis player or the fact that you went to Harvard?
JB: For a long time nobody believed either. I’d tell them I was a pro athlete, and they wouldn’t believe me. Then I’d tell them I went to Harvard, and they’d look at my hair and they wouldn’t believe that either.
THC: Did you have that hairstyle at Harvard?
JB: In high school, I had braids, and my hair was messed up and crazy. When I came to Harvard, I started wearing a hat, so everyone got to know me in a hat. Then I cut [my hair] all off, and when I took off the hat, people didn’t recognize me. I had to reintroduce myself to everyone. I had my hair short for most of the two years I was at Harvard.
THC: Recently, there’s been a lot of controversy regarding athletic recruiting and academic standards for athletes. There’s been talk of increasing the standards across the Ivy League. How do you feel about that?
JB: Well being an athlete helped me out in getting in. And I had a lot of friends who were athletes, and I didn’t see them having any trouble fitting in. I don’t really see it as a problem. It’s just another thing to set you apart, being an outstanding athlete in high school.
THC: How has your Harvard experience helped you in your career?
JB: It’s helped me a lot in maturing. It helps you make your life structured, because you have to go to practice and class and stuff. Moving away from your family is also an important step. And [Harvard] is a very humbling experience. Everyone there is a big shot. Being able to hit a ball with a racquet doesn’t seem so impressive when guys next door are writing computer programs or novels.
THC: What are your plans for after tennis?
JB: I’d like to go back [to Harvard]. I don’t [know] where in life I’ll be when I retire. I hope to be old and have had a long, successful career. I don’t have a set plan, but one of my first options is to go back to school for two years and finishing my degree [James has no plans on what he would do after he earned his degree].
THC: Do you get to explore the cities where you travel on the tour?
JB: That depends. If you end up getting to see more of the city it means you’re probably not doing too well in the tournament. Generally, if you know a city well it means you haven’t had success there. So hopefully you don’t have as much time to see the city. Sometimes the ATP organizes events and outings for you to see the touristy things. But often, if I’m not doing well, I just want to leave and get ready for the next tournament.
—Staff Writer David A. Weinfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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