James Blake's singles career came to an extremely disappointing end late Wednesday night as the former two-time US Open quarterfinalist bowed out to Croatia's Ivo Karlovic 7-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7, 6-7.
Blake, the former world No. 4, was up two sets on the 6-foot-10 Croatian, only to cough up the lead and lose the fifth-set tiebreaker in heartbreaking fashion. Karlovic, whose serves reached 138 MPH, smashed an ace for the final point that withstood a painstaking Blake challenge.
And just like that, Blake's career, which sat at 366-256 overall, was over. Teary-eyed and emotional, Blake addressed the sparse crowd at Louis Armstrong stadium who remained even after midnight.
“I don't know when it's gonna hit me. I don't think I'll be sleeping much tonight,” he said amidst a standing ovation from the New York crowd. “Thanks for staying, for everyone, I can look at the clock, it's after midnight, and I still got a lot of people here supporting me. It's hitting me now that I'm never going to have this again in my life, and I need to appreciate every single one of you for being here,” he said.
Blake's fine career was largely defined by his ability to overcome heartbreak (he suffered a broken vertebrae in his neck in 2004 during a freak training accident, and his father died of stomach cancer later that year), but the late-bloomer from Harvard continued playing, if not for the rankings, but only to improve. That mentality is largely what fostered so many fans, even if the results weren't always what he'd wanted.
When he announced his retirement on Monday, he elaborated on his successes.
“I did the best I could in every situation, and I know probably anyone in here that's covered me before has heard me probably annoyingly give the answer often that my goals, when I was playing tennis, instead of rankings-based, were, one, to keep getting better and try and improve every day, and, two, when I'm done playing, put my rackets down and be content with what I did and happy that I did everything the right way.”
For the always eloquent, popular and outspoken New York native, no one could ever dispute that.