Despite adoration, Blake remains grounded
American heart throb James Blake sets female pulses racing whenever he steps on court but the dread-locked New Yorker has never forgotten what it feels like to be a star-struck tennis fan.
Voted "Sexiest Athlete Alive" by America's People magazine last year, Blake still cannot believe how far he has come since his picked up a tennis racket as a five-year-old or visited Flushing Meadows as a spectator.
"I remember the times I came to watch, sneaking in, trying to sneak down to the bottom of the stadium, watching matches and thinking the guys were unbelievable," Blake said on Friday after beating Sargis Sargsian 6-3 6-4 4-6 7-6 to set up a fourth round showdown with Wimbledon champion Roger Federer at the US Open.
"They were so impressive, they were like machines.
"The time I came here for qualifiers, I never thought I'd have a chance to even play in quallies.
"I was just sitting in the locker room... being like, 'That's Stefan Edberg, that's Thomas Muster, Sampras is there'. I was just looking in awe of how good the players were.
"Now I go in the locker room and I'm still impressed by how good the players are.
"But I also realise that now maybe there's some kid in the quallies or juniors that's nudging his buddy and saying, 'There's James Blake'. I think that's amazing."
Despite his new-found fame and fortune, the 23-year-old still finds it difficult to believe the success he has achieved.
He claimed his first ATP title in Washington a year ago and last week reached the final at Long Island, where he lost to Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan.
"It's a long way that I've come. I'm still a little shocked that I'm always in the locker room, instead of waiting in line to get in to watch," said Blake.
"It's crazy. I never thought this was going to happen."
Although he now rubs shoulders with some of the biggest names in the sport, Blake still cherishes getting the autograph of one former US Open champion.
"I have an Ivan Lendl autograph from when he used to do a charity event at my tennis club," said Blake.
"It's in my room, which my mum does a great job of cleaning up for me before I go home. It's still there."