Blake's battles bridging the gaps

August 25, 2017 02:59 PM

James Blake knows he’s not the first or by any means most prominent athlete to put his name to a social cause.

But the one-time world No.4 and former Fairfield, Connecticut, local does have first-hand experience to draw upon – the victim of a mistaken identity and subsequent excessive force by a New York City police officer.

With the matter resolved, the American feels as well placed as any athlete to lend his voice to fighting social injustice.

So comes his latest contribution to the cause, his second book: Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity and How Sports Can Bring Us Together.

It’s a venture prompted as a result of his ordeal outside his New York City hotel two years ago.

Blake spoke of his latest book ahead of an exhibition set against fellow former American great, Michael Chang, at the Connecticut Open on Thursday night.

“It did feel good to put it together,” Blake said of the book. “It was something that was inspired by my incident with the New York Police Department a couple years ago. I want to use the voice that I have to help others in similar situations that don't have a voice, and also to highlight and promote the fact that there's a lot of athletes doing positive things in the world, especially tennis players. 

“That's the ones I know well. So there are quite a few stories of tennis players that have been inspirational to me and hopefully to many others from the very well known, like Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, to the lesser known like Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Amir Hadad who played together at Wimbledon and at the US Open.”

Blake said doubles players Qureshi and Hadad faced death threats being a Pakistani Muslim and Israeli Jewish combination. But it was a risk, which the 37-year-old had the utmost respect for, a move which would only further help break down barriers.

“To kind of bridge those religious gaps and to be able to play sport and bring people together in that way, I want to show there are people doing things that can be highlighted more so, that they have a social conscience and they're more than just someone who can hit a ball over a net, shoot a basketball in a hoop or throw a football,” he said.

“It's something I've been thinking about for a while and I was lucky enough for Harper Collins to take an interest in it and put it together. It was fun. Made me feel like I was back in school at times, doing research, doing some interviews and stuff. Very different from my first book.”

It is a decade since Blake’s hugely successful autobiography – Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life – was released. That was written on the back of one of his toughest years in which he fractured his neck in an on-court accident and after losing his father to cancer.

Both are books about Blake's journey, about so much more than "someone who can hit a ball over a net".

The 37-year-old's return to the Connecticut Open is somewhat of a homecoming. His family moved from New York City to Fairfield, where he attended Fairfield High School.

“It’s always fun,” Blake said. “I was just here in Connecticut a couple weeks ago for vacation with my family. Love being here. Love getting to see my mom is still around. She'll be out watching tonight. I just love the atmosphere here.”

For the record, Blake beat his compatriot Chang 7-5 and will face either Australian two-time former Grand Slam finalist Mark Philippoussis or another American former Davis Cup teammate, Mardy Fish on Friday night.