Agassi vs James Blake (US Open 2005)
James Blake is a player that has flown unfortunately low under the radar compared to others in his generation. Though he never broke through to the highest levels of accomplishment in the tennis world, achieving what success he has despite growing up wearing a full-length back brace 18 hours a day is impressive. And, though tennis is generally an “information-rich environment” (as Pete Sampras put it in his book, A Champion’s Mind), the fact that Blake attended Harvard for two years before pursuing tennis professionally still stands out to me.
All of that pales in comparison to the series of events that he endured in 2004 though:
While practicing for the Masters event in Rome, he broke his neck when he slipped on the clay and collided with the net post. In July, his father died of stomach cancer. At the same time, Blake developed shingles, which temporarily paralyzed half his face and blurred his sight.
The very next year, this happened when he faced Andre Agassi at the US Open:
An aging Agassi played some of the best tennis I’ve seen him play and Blake raised his game commensurately that night. I’ve looked around, but can’t find an HD video of that match, which is a shame.
Of note, Blake defeated Nadal on his way to this match with Agassi.