James Blake is pressing pause on retirement.
Former world No. 4 Blake, a 10-time ATP World Tour singles champion and seven-time ATP doubles champion, is putting his retirement from playing professional tennis on hold for one week as he competes in doubles with Rancho Santa Fe teenager Hudson Rivera at the Rancho Santa Fe Pro Open – the first of seven consecutive tennis tournaments on USTA Southern California’s SoCal Pro Series.
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Main-draw singles and doubles competition for the Rancho Santa Fe Pro Open, hosted by Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club, begins May 30. The tournament concludes with singles and doubles finals on June 4. Daily admission and parking is free to the public.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Blake, on receiving a wild card with his hitting partner and Stanford-bound Rivera in the $15,000 ITF event. “I haven’t played a tournament in 10 years since I announced my retirement. I don’t have any expectations. The competitive juices are still there, and I’ll go out there and I’m still going to want to win.”
Blake, a Solana Beach, Calif. resident, advanced to Grand Slam singles quarterfinals at the US Open in 2005 and 2006, and at the 2008 Australian Open. His best Grand Slam doubles result was a semifinal berth at Wimbledon in 2009. Blake, 43, has been the tournament director of the highly regarded Miami Open tennis tournament since 2018.
“We are delighted that James Blake and Hudson Rivera have accepted a wild card into the main draw of our doubles tournament at the ITF Rancho Santa Fe Pro Open, and this tandem will certainly elevate our 16-team doubles draw,” Rancho Santa Fe Pro Open tournament director John Chanfreau said. “The pairing of James, an accomplished ATP champion, and Hudson, a rising star on the American tennis scene, is a highlight that is sure to intrigue our tennis community as we open the second year of play on the SoCal Pro Series at Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club.”
Blake said events like the SoCal Pro Series are vitally important to juniors, college players and young pros looking to kick-start their careers.
“I started in Futures events in Florida and Texas and all over,” Blake said. “It is such a great tool. For me, I wasn’t sure what that jump from college to the pros was going to be like and so it’s a great bridge, especially for someone who doesn’t have that experience or knowledge about the pro game.
“Once you get the opportunities and the points, they get you the opportunity to play the bigger events, and once you have that there are chances to get wins at those stages. It’s like getting a break point. If you get enough break points, you’re eventually going to break through.
“I’m settled here now in Southern California. I’ve definitely made it clear to any of the younger pros and juniors in the area that if they want to come here, I’m happy to work with them. I’ve had Frances Tiafoe come here. Chris Eubanks has come, and now Hudson. Anyone who’s around and if I feel I can help, I will. If there are young juniors or pros who think I can help them, I’m around.”
The upcoming SoCal Pro Series showcases seven consecutive weeks of 15,000 ITF World Tour-level men’s and women’s tournaments at Southern California tennis facilities in San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange counties. Debuting successfully in 2022, the SoCal Pro Series will once again give Southern California players the chance to earn valuable ATP and WTA world ranking points.
The $15,000-purse ITF events for both men and women are part of the USTA Pro Circuit. This year, the top men’s and women’s players accumulating the most points throughout the seven events will be granted a wild card into qualifying at next year’s BNP Paribas Open. The “Road to Indian Wells” wild card is available to U.S. citizens who are Southern California residents or full-time Southern California college students.
The SoCal Pro Series’ upcoming seven tournament dates and locations are:
May 29-June 4 – Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club, Rancho Santa FeJune 5-11 – University of San Diego, San DiegoJune 12-18 – Barnes Tennis Center, San DiegoJune 19-25 – Jack Kramer Club, Rolling Hills EstatesJune 26-July 2 – Racquet Club of Irvine, IrvineJuly 3-9 – Lakewood Tennis Center, LakewoodJuly 10-16 – Lakewood Tennis Center, Lakewood
Southern California players can register to play in pre-qualifying events for a chance to make the main draw at https://www.ustasocal.com/proseries. The upcoming pre-qualifying schedule includes: Barnes Tennis Center, May 26-28; Lakewood Tennis Club, June 2-5 and June 20-July 3.
To learn more about the SoCal Pro Series, go to: https://www.ustasocal.com/proseries.
Photo credit: Getty About USTA Southern California