I actually read several books but the choice I made for this report is 'Breaking Back', How I lost everything and won back my life' by James Blake. The main focus of the book is the year 2004 when James went through major Job-like difficulties. His biggest decision to this point was to shave off is signature dread-locks but then he had a freak accident and broke his neck, his father died of stomach cancer and then he had a bout with zoster a virus that left his face half paralyzed and the very likelihood that his tennis career was over.
There is a lot to be impressed about with James. He is a constant reader as was his father. Education was very important to the Blake household and both James and his elder brother Thomas went to Harvard University. James left Harvard after winning the NCAA's to try his hand at the pro-tour. He promised his mom that he would go back if the pro-thing didn't work out. I have a feeling that he won't go back now, but that would be really cool if he did.
James has many good and loyal friends that saw him through his trials including his coach Brian Barker. Brian has been James coach since he was 11 years old. It is practically unheard of to stay with a coach that long especially one that is not a family member. Brian and James' father both stressed that improvement is the important thing. As long as you keep getting better the results will take care of themselves. Work hard, get better was the mantra.
When James came back form his 'bad' year he participated in challenger events even though he was granted wild-cards into tour-level tournaments. He felt the need to earn his way back and the wins gave him the confidence to move forward more match-tough. In the weeks heading toward the US Open in August 2005 James started to really come back. He made it to the final in the Washington DC tournament losing to Andy Roddick. Then came the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven Connecticut.
This tournament was a big moment in James life. He grew up in Connecticut and many of his friends were able to come watch him play. All those friends that kept his spirits up during the rough times the year before could cheer him on. The director of the tournament sat his fans together and they became the J-Block. They had matching t-shirts and cheered James on as if their lives depended on the outcome. James won this tournament on the backs of his beloved J-block. I loved reading about this because I watched the matches on TV and wished that I could have been right there, wearing a blue t-shirt and yelling at the top of my voice for James.
The J-Block continued to cheer James on at the US Open where he made it to the semi-finals. His opponent was Andre Agassi. I remember being very conflicted during this match because I wanted James' streak to continue, but I loved Andre and I knew he wouldn't have many more years ahead of him. (Andre retired the next year) Andre won in a fifth set tie-breaker. Always the gentleman Andre said "I wasn't the winner tonight, tennis was." I agree.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it whether or not you are a tennis fan. James Blake is a remarkable man and quite good-looking I might add. He was put on people magazine's sexiest man list in 2002 which earned him a lot of ribbing from his friends. Some day I would like to go to a tournament and have James sign my book. Maybe I'll even buy a J-Block t-shirt.