In losing at the U.S. Open, James Blake ended his singles career at the tournament he used to sneak into as a kid. (Clive Brunskill/AP)
NEW YORK -- The clock struck midnight on James Blake's 14-year career right around the same time the clock actually struck midnight during the final moments of his 6-7 (2), 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2) loss to Ivo Karlovic in the first round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday.
Losing a decisive fifth-set tiebreaker to end his career after leading by two sets in a three-hour, 24-minute match was a tough pill to swallow for Blake, who announced on Monday that the U.S. Open would be his final tournament.
"It's not ideal," said Blake, who confessed that he wouldn't be sleeping much after the defeat. "Hopefully, this won't be my lasting memory, up two sets to love, two tiebreakers in the fourth and fifth, losing both of those. Pretty much in my hands at times, and I I felt like I gave them away."
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When reporters tried to put a positive spin on the night, Blake smiled and shrugged. "There's no good way to go out unless you're holding that trophy."
After the loss, a teary-eyed Blake thanked the fans who stayed past midnight to cheer him on and share in the memories of his final match. Many at Louis Armstrong Stadium were emotional, too, as he thanked the fans who regularly made him one of the most daunting players to face at the U.S. Open.
"I'm never [again] going to have 15,000, 10,000, 20,000 people cheering for me, chanting U‑S‑A, screaming my name, that kind of stuff," Blake said. "I'm lucky enough to have had that for 14 years. I try to look at the positives. Most people never have had that. Most people in the world will never be able to relate to that."
Born in Yonkers, N.Y., Blake used to sneak into the U.S. Open as a kid by climbing under an unguarded fence. Ranked as high as No. 4, many of his best results have come in New York, including his run to the quarterfinals in 2005 and 2006. Now 33, married and with a daughter, Blake is looking forward to playing golf, hanging out with friends and changing diapers.
"As much as our job does seem easy and it is very fortunate what we do, one thing that's different about our lives as athletes is we're always pro athletes," Blake said. "So when you feel like you have time off, you still have to be training. You still can't be going out, staying until three o'clock, four o'clock in the morning like your buddies can because they have to be at work and get through it with a couple cups of coffee.
"You can't fake your way through a tournament. You're sort of on a pretty selfish schedule, a pretty regimented schedule, for a big portion of your life. I'm looking forward to not having that. If I feel like staying up late and hanging out with my friends or taking a weekend trip to Mexico, just being with my wife and kids or whatever, I've never really had that opportunity. So that's what I'm looking forward to for the next few months."
Blake's U.S. Open isn't completely over. He's still in the doubles tournament with Jack Sock. But when he leaves the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the last time as a professional athlete, he'll take nothing but fond memories with him.
"When I do leave, I'll realize it's been a long road," Blake said. "I'm at the same venue, but I'm not the same person. I've had a lot of miles, a pretty good and long journey since I was a kid sneaking in here, to a full‑grown man leaving here."