RANCHO SANTA FE, June 1, 2023 (by Steve Pratt)
It may only be a comeback on the professional tennis scene just this week, coming nearly 10 years after his retirement from the ATP World Tour, but James Blake brought out a standing room only crowd to Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club and was still able to thrill about 300 onlookers with stellar instances of shot making. While ATP ranking points now mean nothing to Blake, he tallied another in doubles.
Blake, a 10-time ATP World Tour singles champion and seven-time ATP doubles champ, partnered with Hudson Rivera on Wednesday to defeat No. 3 seed Trey Hilderbrand and Noah Schachter, Texas A&M’s top doubles team as outgoing seniors, 6-4, 1-6, 10-7 (third-set tiebreaker) at the Rancho Santa Fe Pro Open – the first of seven consecutive tennis tournaments on USTA Southern California’s SoCal Pro Series.
Solana Beach resident Blake, 43, and his 19-year-old Stanford-bound pupil, Rivera, advance to face Ohio State freshman Jack Anthrop and San Diego resident Bryce Nakashima – the younger brother of ATP Tour star Brandon Nakashima who will be an incoming freshman at Ohio State in the fall – in the quarterfinals at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Thursday. Daily tournament admission and parking is free to the public.
Does Blake still have it after a decade of retirement from tennis that has segued into full-time fatherhood? “I don’t know about that,” he said.
Will Blake physically hold up for Thursday’s quarterfinal in the ITF World Tennis Tour’s $15,000 tournament on the USTA’s Pro Circuit? “I’ll let you know tomorrow,” he said.
What Blake still has is the ability to think his way through points, soft, quick hands and crisp ball-striking off the racket which was noticeably different than the three players – all a generation younger – that he shared the court with.
“He has it all,” said Rivera, a Rancho Santa Fe resident. “It’s crazy. Now I know what his level really is because he doesn’t play to that level when he practices with me.”
Blake, who reached as high as No. 4 in the ATP’s singles rankings, 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 retired from ATP Tour life after the 2013 US Open and has served as tournament director of the highly regarded Miami Open since 2018.
Nowadays, Blake admits about the only time he takes to a tennis court with racket in hand is while practicing once every week or two with Rivera.
“It was a lot of fun,” Blake said of Wednesday’s first-round match. “I was out here last year to watch Hudson earn his first ATP ranking point. I considered playing doubles with him then. He asked me to play again.”
Elsewhere in men’s tennis action, San Diego resident and UCLA product Keegan Smith has advanced to the second round in the singles and doubles draws. The 2019 NCAA Division I men’s doubles national champion formed a top-seeded partnership with Great Britain’s Aidan McHugh and they rolled past the British duo of Adam Jones and Giacomo Revelli, 6-3, 6-1. In singles, Smith dispatched San Diegan and Torrey Pines High sophomore William Kleege, 6-1, 6-1.
On the women’s side, Thursday’s second-round schedule includes a UCLA-USC singles matchup between Fangran Tian, UCLA’s freshman who won the NCAA Division I women’s singles national championship last weekend, and outgoing USC senior Eryn Cayetano, a tournament champion on last year’s SoCal Pro Series who reached the semifinals of last week’s NCAA Division I women’s doubles championships.
An unseeded Tian, 19 and representing China, ousted University of San Diego sophomore Filippa Bruu-Syversen, 6-0, 6-1, while the top-seeded Cayetano dispatched American Nikki Redelijk, 6-4, 6-4. Tian and Cayetano have also advanced into the quarterfinals of the women’s doubles draw.
While the USC-UCLA rivalry continues on the SoCal Pro Series, the two have never played against each other in singles.
Said Tian: “Eryn’s such a good player and we’re friends off court, too. We were rivals but we were always friendly. It’s going to be just as tough as NCAAs.
“Last week was a crazy week, like some crazy experience. Going into the NCAAs, I didn’t have high expectations because everyone there was so good. I’m mostly very excited to come to this week, to a pro tournament.”
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’ remaining tournament dates and locations are:
- June 5-11 – University of San Diego, San Diego
- June 12-18 – Barnes Tennis Center, San Diego
- June 19-25 – Jack Kramer Club, Rolling Hills Estates
- June 26-July 2 – Racquet Club of Irvine, Irvine
- July 3-9 – Lakewood Tennis Center, Lakewood
- July 10-16 – Lakewood Tennis Center, Lakewood
To learn more about the SoCal Pro Series, click here.