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James Blake Goes Out With a Bang

James Blake

James Blake may never have won the US Open, but there is no question it was his tournament. If you wanted to pinpoint the moment he arrived, maybe it was the year he crawled through a trench under the fence and snuck in without a ticket. But more likely it was 2002, when Blake played No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in Louis Armstrong Stadium.

As the five-set match wore on, the stands gradually filled as word of the match traveled around the grounds, until the top of the bleachers were packed. The top row lined was standing room only, with plenty of US Open employees in their work uniforms standing and screaming for the player later called Jimmy Kid.

If you ask people to recall that match, they might remember how Hewitt made a clunky and racially tinged comment about a Black linesman who called him for foot faults, gesturing to the two and demanding of chair umpire Andres Egli, "You tell me what the similarity is." A few more might remember how Blake took the high road after a gutting loss, refusing to give name to what that "similarity" might be in an emotional moment. That grace became his defining characteristic.

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