This week you should be fighting the Miami Open, one of many tournaments that have been canceled by the coronavirus. Since we cannot talk about what happens on the track, it is only fair to recall a story outside it, for example, the one that happened to the current director of the event a few years ago. We talk about James Blake, at the forefront of the tournament since January 2018, as well as one of the tour’s most charismatic men in his time as a player. Returning to that stage, today we rescued one of the turning points he had during his career, the moment when he decided to turn everything around in search of a better version as a player.
Blake’s story is born almost overnight. In a sigh he went from studying at Harvard to earning a living on the professional circuit. A prodigy, as they say. However, his early years on the ATP wheel were shaky due to the pressure of expectations, the sway of results, and the personal misfortune he had to deal with at home. His father Tom, a crucial figure in his evolution as an athlete and a human being, was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the summer 2003. That changed everything. Blake, 23, had not yet exploded on the circuit, but from that day on his head began to ask other questions. Assuming he ever reached the elite, would his father be alive to see him? The season ended quite weakly, which caused James to brake on the brakes, leading to reflection. Looking back, I started toying with the idea of doing something symbolic to mark the end of all of the above, sending a signal to the tennis world, to my opponents and to myself that a new phase in my career was beginning. I thought about shaving my head“
These words are written by the player himself in his biography, Breacking Back, which we highly recommend. After this brief review, we return to history, why the world’s No. 37 at that time concluded that it should break with everything. “This idea that could be very successful in any 33-year-old man, in my case was something tremendously shocking, since many fans knew me by my hairstyle. He had a very strong presence in the dressing room and not only for being one of the few African Americans on the tour, but for the dreadlocks he wore in the Medusa style. I had worn them since my student days, so it was quite easy to find me from the stands, even at a long distance ”, reinforces the New York native.
And here many will wonder: Blake? Dreadlocks? Are you sure we’re talking about the same James Blake? Most fans, including of course the younger ones, will remember the American with his usual shave, competing here and there without a single hair on his head. But it was not always like this, you may have already seen it in the header photograph in the article. At the time, the rage with this man’s hairstyle was such that a cut of it would be a collective shock. As if Federer, the week after winning Wimbledon in 2003, suddenly appears with Davydenko’s bald spot. “Over time I started to think that my hair style was casting a shadow on my play style. That worried me, I wanted to be known for how I played, not my appearance. I once heard Michael Jordan, my great idol, say that he always played for that person in the stands who had never seen him play before, in order for him to see something he would never, ever forget. To be honest with myself, I’m sure most of the people who would have seen me would remember me as ‘the crazy hairstyle guy’. I didn’t want to continue this, I wanted to shave my head to start being recognized for my tennis, ”thought young Blake.
What the Yonkers player did not expect was that his dilemma not only reached fashion terms, it also affected his economy. Carlos Fleming, your agent IMG, so let him know. “I knew that my appearance was, far above my tennis, what interested the agency in the first place. My hair was a very important part of the equation. When I told Carlos, he quickly thought it was a bad idea. Right now, he was renegotiating my contract with Nike, as well as looking for other interested sponsors, but everyone agreed on one thing: my hair generated money with their own interests. ”
The doubt in the American’s head began to grow almost as fast as his hair had grown. “I shared my plan with other people in my circle, close friends who could give me advice. My brother Thomas, who had worn similar hair for some years, positioned himself against the idea, basically because he knew the time and work it took to grow back. On the other hand, my friend Laura I thought I had to be brave and keep my word. Time passed and I had to make a decision, since the 2004 season was already around the corner.
Finally, inspiration finished consolidating itself in James’s mind through the least expected path, a neighbor. “Molly henry and her husband Justin were looking for resources to help a local women’s basketball team. I researched how I could help them, until I came to the conclusion that it would be best to cut my hair and then auction it off along with some souvenirs. I could even promote this whole thing during my interviews in Australia, where I was sure everyone would ask me about my new look. At that time there were many good reasons to do it and no good reason not to do it. At least, none that occurred to me at that time, “recalls the protagonist 16 years later.
The theory was already clear, the most difficult was missing. “I came home and I did it: I shaved my head. I could feel every dread loosening around my face, falling to the ground. Then I picked up each one and put them all in an empty plastic bag. “Now you look much younger!” My friends told me when they saw me. They were the ones who were there, who helped me shave the back of my head and thus avoid any bald spots. I had a feeling of emotion, of adrenaline, of doing something spontaneous, without thinking too much about whether it would be better or worse. ”
Once the order was finished, all that remained was to communicate it. He knew his agent’s stance well, but there was no going back.
‘I did it’
‘What have you done what?’
‘I have shaved my head’
“After a long silence, Carlos said he would call me later … and hung up the phone. I didn’t hear from him again until the next day, but he did have time to talk to a reporter and leave him a juicy headline: ‘Right at the time when James was shaving, I was losing a million dollars’. That represented a lot of money, more than I thought I would earn throughout my career without counting advertising contracts. But it was too late, at that time the priorities had changed. ” Over time, already hairless, the results also changed. For the better, of course.