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Another King James?

Blake enjoying life as next big American tennis star

Posted: Friday September 15, 2006 2:53PM; Updated: Friday September 15, 2006 6:47PM
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James Blake
After a series of tragedies, James Blake is enjoying life off the court.
Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Don't look now, but James Blake is all smiles these days. Who could blame him? He has the looks, game and bank account of a classic champion. He's playing the best tennis of his life, winning a career-best three ATP titles this year, and he's currently ranked No. 8, becoming the first African-American male since Arthur Ashe to crack the men's top 10. In fact, over the past year he has slowly been laying his claim to the American men's tennis throne, and everyone is starting to take notice.

As he stood in the middle of a jam-packed, post-U.S. Open party thrown by Evian on Thursday night, the only care the tennis heartthrob seemed to have was deciding which leggy fashion model he would strike a pose with next. "Smile, James!" a rangy blonde beckoned as she cozied up to Blake for the cameras. And smile he did. Blake spent nearly three hours posing, chatting and networking with a hip crowd of devotees who were hankering to exalt his recent success. Yes, Blake is surely loving life right about now. He's at the top of his game and as a result his popularity and his corporate demand have skyrocketed.

Capitalizing on his surge up the tennis rankings, the 26-year-old signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Evian in July. Normally this would not be news among tennis stars, but for Blake, this is the start of something big -- the beginnings of becoming a superstar. America's other men's tennis star, Andy Roddick, already has endorsement deals with American Express, Rolex and Parlux among others. Yet this is Blake's first non-tennis sponsorship deal since making his debut in the top 10 early this year, and so far Evian is pulling out all the stops to market him as the next big thing.

"He has clearly turned the corner, establishing himself as a top-10 player. In the marketing world, it's given him a new level of credibility as a corporate spokesperson," said Blake's agent, Carlos Fleming.

For the first time in his career, Blake was the top American billed at this year's U.S. Open. On Day 4 of the tournament, ushers passed out James Blake hand fans from Evian to all entrants while Blake paraphernalia sold in record numbers at the concession stands.

"I guess it all started at the Open last year," said James. "That's where I got a lot of exposure with my win over [Rafael] Nadal and the great quarterfinal against [Andre] Agassi and the hype with the J Block and the T-shirts. Fans saw how hard I play and how much of a turnaround I made and they really appreciated."

Fans also got the first glimpse of Blake's personal life, when his then-girlfriend, model Jennifer Scholle, sat in his box at last year's Open. The pairing made news headlines and gossip blogs and got several mentions on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. "That was pretty funny," said Blake. "I heard Tony Kornheiser took a liking to her. Who knew?"