James Blake has seen triumph and tragegy on and off the court. The biracial son of an African-American father and British mother, by age 11 he seriously was hooked on the game. By the time he entereed his sophomore year at Harvard University, Blake had seen mixed success on the professional circut. But, his biggest challenges came within months of each other. He struggled to follow his father Toms's advice, just as Tom, was losing his battle with stomach cancer. Then he ran into a steel post during a practice game in Rome and fractured the vertebrae in his neck. All of this was before he was diagnosed with paralyzing shingles.
The book serves as his memoir and tells his tell of roaring back to become the top-ranked American player in the world.
For an excerpt of "Breaking Back" see below.
For professional tennis players, December is an annual abyss.
The year's competition is done, and everyone on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour scatters around the planet to relax for the only month of our sport's notoriously stingy off-season. Come January, those of us who aren't nursing injuries will flock to Australia, or one of a handful of other destinations, for the first tournaments of the New Year. From there, we will continue to travel and play on and off for the better part of the next eleven months.
Success in professional sports is a funny thing. You might say that pro athletes live with three certainties looming over them: Death, taxes, and retirement. In the back of your mind, you know that no matter how good you are, what you've got is either fleeting or finite-at some point it's going to end, either by choice or because your body will simply give out.
So, much as we welcome our downtime in December, we must also contend with the what-ifs that it brings: What if I just had the best year I'm capable of? What if this slump I'm in isn't really a slump? What if it's the beginning of the long, slow slide to oblivion? Even the best player in the world faces his own versions of this question: what if this was my last year of being number one? What if that new teenager everyone's buzzing about is even better than I am? What if I get injured next year and it all comes screeching to a halt?
For most players, these are the questions that come up every December, but for me, December 2003 was the first year that I really found myself asking them. In 1999, I left college after my sophomore year to become a professional tennis player, but it took me a few Decembers before I really came to understand the abyss that the month presents. Like many young athletes, I was having too much fun for such weighty introspection. The ATP tour is like a kind of traveling neverland, where no one forces you to grow up. So a lot of the guys are indistinguishable from overgrown adolescents-when not hitting tennis balls, or the gym, we spend our time hanging out, playing poker, watching television, mastering video games, instant messaging each other, perfecting iPod playlists, and planning the occasional practical joke.