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Retiring Blake Looks Forward To Golfing, Changing Diapers

New York, U.S.A.

Blake© Getty ImagesJames Blake, former No. 4, will retire after this tournament.

Bowing out in his final singles match at the US Open, James Blake looked back on his career -- and ahead to new pursuits.

"I'm looking forward to a new stage in my life.  'll miss this one," he said after falling to Ivo Karlovic in a fifth-set tie-break in the first round.

Though disappointed with the loss after going up two sets to begin the match, Blake took a broader view when reflecting on his playing days.

"I'm never going to have 15,000, 10,000, 20,000 people cheering for me, chanting U.S.A, screaming my name, that kind of stuff. I'm lucky enough to have had that for 14 years. I try to look at the positives. Most people never have had that," he said.

And nowhere has Blake had that more than at Flushing Meadows. The 33-year-old American grew up in nearby Fairfield, Connecticut, and has been hugely popular with the US Open crowds, playing a number of memorable matches that included his classic five-setter against Andre Agassi in 2005. His vocal crowd of friends who show up annually to cheer him on, known as the J-Block, have become a fixture at the tournament.

"So many matches I've been out there, been out on Ashe, crowd supporting me past midnight, crowds supporting me during the day, through rain delays, through everything. All the people that have kind of driven miles. I know my friends have driven hours to be here and people have flown in to be here. It means a lot that people come to see me."

But Blake, who became a father last year, expects to be more low-profile in retirement. His wife, Emily, gave birth to daughter Riley 14 months ago. "Now I'll go back to being a normal person that doesn't have people cheering for him, just changing diapers and hoping to get 18 holes in on a given day. That's okay with me," he said.

"As much as our job does seem easy and it is very fortunate what we do, one thing that's different about our lives as athletes is we're always pro athletes. So when you feel like you have time off, you still have to be training. You still can't be going out, staying till 3:00, 4:00 in the morning like your buddies can because they have to be at work and get through it with a couple cups of coffee.

"If I feel like staying up late and hanging out with my friends or taking a weekend trip to Mexico, just being with my wife and kids or whatever, I've never really had that opportunity. So that's what I'm looking forward to for the next few months. Take in some Mets games, some Yankees games, some Giants games this season.

"Before, my schedule would never allow a lot of those things to happen. Now on a whim, we can go to a Mets game tonight, go to a Broadway show tonight."

The former World No. 4 drew special meaning from playing his final match on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's historic speech.

In his own way, he also hopes he was a tennis inspiration for others and still plans to stay involved the game.

"I know there are people that look up to me that may not have ever been involved in tennis, may not have thought of tennis, because they saw someone that looked like them on TV. They hear that I started playing tennis in Harlem. They know I still go back there and volunteer. Maybe there is a possibility for a kid that feels like their only option is basketball, they say, 'Hey, I can pick up a tennis racquet, too,'" said Blake

"I'm not going to have a job for a little while, but I also want to help out where I can, help grassroots programs to get more players," he added, citing the example of his coach Brian Barker, who coached him through childhood and most of his career and was present courtside for Blake's final match. "If I could ever be a coach like him, I would definitely do it because I would feel like I have to. I would owe it to the sport."

Blake isn't saying goodbye to the US Open quite yet -- he's still in the doubles with Jack Sock. But he knows there will be plenty to reflect on when he does.

"When I do leave, I'll realise it's been a long road. I'm at the same venue, but I'm not the same person," he said. "I've had a lot of miles, a pretty good and long journey since I was a kid sneaking in here to a full-grown man leaving here."

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