By Kelyn Soong, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- James Blake’s face lights up at the mention of his newborn daughter, Riley. The 32-year-old became a father on June 10, when his fiancée, publicist Emily Snider, gave birth to the couple’s first child.
Despite Blake’s struggles on the tennis court, 2012 has been a significant year for the No. 116th ranked American. On Nov. 9, he will wed Snider, with several fellow players as guests. There is no wedding party, however, as Blake did not want any "complications" or "hurt feelings."
His 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over fifth seed Pablo Andujar in the first round at Citi Open Monday was only his second ATP win of the year. He will play qualifier Marco Chiudinelli in the next round.
Blake’s ranking plummeted after undergoing right knee surgery last November, and he has slowly been working his way back to form. Yet Blake is feeling healthy once again and is looking to make noise at the site of his first ATP Tour title 10 years ago.
EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com caught up with Blake in Washington D.C. to talk fatherhood, tennis and even a bit of politics in our nation's capital:
EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com: Congratulations on the birth of your daughter. How has life changed since then?
James Blake: The daughter changes a lot, it changes everything. It changes for the better. It’s hard to describe. It really puts the sport in perspective, puts the rest of your life before that in perspective. It’s really been so fun.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect – you hear a lot from everyone else – but until you go through it, there’s really nothing like it…I couldn’t be a prouder Dad, and I’m thrilled.
EAUSOS.com: Fatherhood is really important to you. It was a big theme in your book and since we’re on that – do you plan on writing another book in the near future?
JB: I kind of doubt it [Laughs]. I’ve always said I hope I don’t have to write a second book. A lot of tough stuff had to happen for me to get up the reason to write the first book…If I don’t have to write a book that means things are going really well. I’d be happy not writing another book.
EAUSOS.com: This year marks the 10-year anniversary of your win in Washington, D.C. Where does that victory rank in your best tennis memories?
JB: It’s one of my most memorable for sure, because it was my first [ATP singles title]. It was so exciting…To come here and win singles really kind of jumpstarted my confidence…It’s just something I’ll always remember.
EAUSOS.com: Does that victory feel long ago or does it feel like just yesterday?
JB: I’ve had both feelings this week. I still remember that feeling so well, but I also remember what stage I was in my life then [laughs]. That seems like a lifetime ago. The crazy dreads and going out and partying a ton that night with my friends…it was definitely a different time.
Nowadays if I win a match it’s let’s make sure the baby is asleep and get to bed early. There was nothing like that when I was 22-years-old. It seems like a long time ago when I think about that.
EAUSOS.com: What do you enjoy most about Washington, D.C.?
JB: I’ve really come to appreciate the fans, the fact that they still come out and cheer for me. I’ve had some great moments here, and I also had one of my toughest moments on tour here when I tried to play when I was sick in ’04. It was really tough for me, but the fans urged me on. A lot of memories here – that’s what’s exciting to me about this place.
EAUSOS.com: You’ve just had surgery on your right knee in November. What keeps you motivated to keep going?
JB: I love competition, that’s the biggest thing for me. I’ve set my goal in tennis when I first started, which is to have no regrets when I hang up my racquet, and I think if I had stopped right after the surgery, I would’ve had a little bit of regret. When I end my career I want to know I did it because I either didn’t have enough motivation…or just that my body wasn’t letting me compete. At this point I’m still figuring it out.
EAUSOS.com: Talk about the camaraderie of the American players. Do you think this era is closer to each other than the generations before?
JB: This one is very close. From the stories I’ve heard about past generations, [we’re] the closest. I really think that’s just due to the players – myself, Andy [Roddick], Mardy [Fish] – we love playing, we love competing, but we also like having fun together.
I think part of it is maybe the guys in the generation before had so much success so young, they didn’t really go through the Challengers together. The guys today, we went through the Challengers together. That brings on a sense of camaraderie, the fact that you’re all in this together, and that never changed.
Mardy, Andy, and [John] Isner are all coming to my wedding. They’re all going to be friends forever whether or not I ever win another match, and that’s something that’s special to us. I hope it carries on to the next generation of players too, and I feel like it has already.
EAUSOS.com: I read that you’re into politics. It’s an election year, have you been following it?
JB: To be honest, I find it tougher to follow these days because of the stark contrast out there. There’s such a divisive feeling in politics, and it’s a little disheartening -- it almost seems difficult to get a straight answer or just a news story.
I think it’s unfortunate that politics is becoming something where you’re just trying to make sure someone else fails instead of compromise. It seems like now people are too worried about being reelected instead of worrying about what’s best for the country. I feel like that’s just not the way to do politics.
I know that it’s a simple approach, you know, I’m a dumb jock spouting off about politics, but it’s frustrating following it when you like to see a lot more compromise.
EAUSOS.com: Does that turn you off from potentially entering into politics?
JB: [Laughs] I don’t know. I still don’t know what’s going to happen after I’m done playing. If I ever felt like I really could make a difference, and I was the best person for the job, then I think it could be interesting, and I would love to be a part of it. But it’s not something that’s immediately interesting to me.
EAUSOS.com: What tournaments are you playing in next?
JB: I’m playing in Cincinnati, Winston-Salem and the US Open.