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Steering The Ship: James Blake Discusses Running the Miami Open

by Mike McIntyre

March 20, 2024

The Miami Open begins this week and continues what is commonly referred to as the “Sunshine Double” in the tennis world, following the other 1000-level event in Indian Wells.

At the helm of the event in Miami is a familiar face as former World No. 4 James Blake returns for his sixth edition as tournament director.

Known as one of the nicest guys on the ATP Tour during his playing days, Blake retired from competing professionally at the US Open in 2013 but has remained very active within the sport, participating in legends events, counselling players like Frances Tiafoe and more recently Denis Shapovalov, and in his current role at the Miami Open.

Speaking with Blake recently for an episode of Match Point Canada, I was able to delve into the challenges and rewards of running one of the biggest tournaments in the sport, as well as his overall admiration at how far Canadian tennis has come since he hung up his racket.

It was evident early on in our conversation that Blake cares a great deal about the work he does. He was notorious about his attention to detail while competing on the ATP Tour and that level of focus has not waivered in his role off the court as tournament director.

Read also: 2024 National Bank Open to Follow New Schedule Due to Olympics

He takes immense pride in the growth that the event has experienced since moving in 2019 from Crandon Park – where it resided for 32 years - to the current location at Hard Rock Stadium. The change has allowed the tournament to welcome more fans, giving them greater access to the action and finding a way to creatively put a tennis show court inside a 60,000 seat football stadium.

The role of tournament director is a natural one for former players. We have seen the likes of Tommy Haas, Marcos Baghdatis and our own Valerie Tetreault ascend to the role after their playing careers have come to an end. Having connections with many of the players who were once competitors is nice, but as Blake mentions it can also come with some challenges as well, particularly when a former colleague or peer expects to benefit from that prior relationship.

Read also: Alcaraz and Swiatek in Line to Complete Sunshine Double

“When you’re so familiar with all the players, it’s good and bad,” Blake revealed. “It’s good because they understand that you’re fighting for them, you’re not going into the locker room to explain something to them as someone who’s never been there so it really helps you. But in the same vein, when they come to ask you, ‘hey come on this is just for me, let me get just one extra badge…a little more time on the practice court’ and they expect [because we’ve] been friends before - and as much as I always want the answer to be ‘yes’, there’s plenty of times I have to say no and that’s actually the toughest part for me.”

Blake was happy to share some advice as a two-week 1000 event that boasts a draw of 96 players with our own big-time event at the National Bank Open in Montreal and Toronto ahead of their upcoming evolution in 2025 to a similar-sized tournament that will also occupy 14 days of the tennis calendar.

“The pros [of a two-week event] are that it gives a great product because the players aren’t as packed-in, that you have to get so many great matches in such a short amount of time. It also gives you the flexibility when it comes to weather…you have a little bit of wiggle room to work that schedule the next day as opposed to the one-week event where there is just no room and you have to play two matches in a day or extend it to a Monday.”

Read also: Four Canadians Competing in Miami

Lately, Canadian tennis has been achieving international accolades like never before which lends itself nicely to the increased space on the tour calendars to showcase our many talented athletes on home soil. Blake couldn’t help but share his admiration for what we have achieved in recent years in Canada.

“It’s really incredible what Canadian tennis has done: to see Grand Slam champions like [Bianca] Andreescu and to see Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup victories. To think, when I was playing it was pretty much Danny Nestor! And now to have FAA and to have Shapovalov and Andreescu on the other side, Genie Bouchard having so much success for a little while there. It’s pretty impressive to see what’s gone on and the future that it holds.”

If you’re interested in more from James Blake including his admiration for Venus Williams, his takeaways from authoring two very successful books and his assistance with Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in recent months, check out the full interview on Match Point Canada:

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Feature Photo : Peter Staples/ATP