MIX IT UP, MAKE IT NICE

Secrets of a Tennis Mom


by Betty Blake

James Blake’s rise to the elite of the tennis world could be considered improbable, even verging on the impossible. Betty Blake shares the story of a bratty kid who wore a back brace for 18 hours each day to correct severe scoliosis, never attended a tennis academy, received early tennis training on public tennis courts, grew up in New England’s six-month outdoor tennis season, and yet rose to the top 30 in the tennis world.
Just as James’s future looked rosiest, with the media speculating how high he could climb, he suffered a series of life-altering tragedies. In 2004 he broke his neck in a freak accident with a net post, watched his father die a lingering death from cancer, then, due to the strain of these experiences, he contracted shingles, which paralyzed half his face and affected his vision, hearing and balance, making his tennis future uncertain and resulting in his ranking plummeting to 210.
Not one to give in to despair, James fought back. As soon as his doctors allowed, he began practicing again, working harder than ever, and by the end of 2006 he stood once again at the top of the tennis world, his position at number four making him the highest-ranked American tennis player.
But there’s more to the story than that. Betty Blake shows how James and his older brother Thomas were raised in a biracial middle-class family by an African American father and a white mother from England. Both boys attended Harvard and both became tennis professionals. A first-class education was by design, a tennis career was not. Education, rather than a tennis academy, was always the top priority in the Blake household.
“Today many youngsters who exhibit talent are uprooted from their families and whisked off to a tennis academy,” writes Betty. “There they spend more time on the court than on schoolwork.”
Tom and Betty Blake rejected this for two reasons; they refused to break up the family and would never compromise their sons’ educations. Betty writes how Tom disciplined his sons with love and encouraged them to work hard and make the most of their talents. Thomas, three years older than James, blazed the trail for James to follow in school, in junior tennis and in college. Looking up to and competing with his brother helped shape James’s determination to excel in both academics and sports.
Betty Blake’s reflections address race relations in our society, individual identity and how their sons’ ethnicity helped them be at ease in any situation. These are the foundation for Mix It Up, Make It Nice: Secrets of a Tennis Mom.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

ISBN 9780615373751
220 pages
Hardcover
$26.00

Check for giftwrap ($1.50)