James Blake is delighted to take part in a PowerShares Series of mini-matches that includes old ATP tour pals Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish on Saturday night at Volvo Car Stadium. But it won’t be the first time the former Harvard student has made a tennis impact on Daniel Island.
A 2013 phone call from Blake helped Bishop England sophomore Jared Pratt get through a two-year battle to recover from back surgery. Both struggled with scoliosis — curvature of the spine — that got in the way of high-level youth tennis pursuits.
“It was a lot of lying in bed for a lot of months,” Pratt said, “and then slowly working my way back into it.”
Blake didn’t need surgery but, having been diagnosed with scoliosis at 13, he wore a back brace 18 hours a day until he went to college.
“When my friends hear about a kid with scoliosis or anything relating to that, they think of me and think that maybe my experience can help,” Blake said. “I was happy to do it and hopefully it made a difference.”
Pratt’s reaction to the pep talk: “It was cool. He seemed very down to earth. I had a slight idea he might call but it was pretty much a surprise.”
Pratt has bounced back to “100 percent,” and has the rankings to prove it: No. 1 in South Carolina for boys 16, No. 3 in the South.
Blake, 36, won’t be worried about rankings Saturday night but he is ready for PowerShares singles competition with Agassi, Roddick and Fish in the one-set semifinals and one-set championship match format.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Blake, who will play Friday with Agassi, Fish and John McEnroe at a PowerShares event in Chicago. “The environment is perfect: You get three matches and you get to see four of your favorite players.”
Agassi reached No. 1 in the world and won eight Grand Slam singles titles from 1992 to 2003.
Roddick was No. 1 and won the 2003 U.S. Open.
Blake won 10 ATP titles during a pro career that went from 1999 to 2013. He reached No. 4.
Roddick and Fish played together on the 2004 U.S. Davis Cup team that defeated Belarus on Daniel Island.
When not playing tennis, Blake is multi-tasking more than most of the other married dads with two kids in his San Diego neighborhood.
Blake’s foundation, inspired by his late father, primarily aims to fund early detection cancer research. Blake ran the New York City Marathon last November to raise awareness and money, and finished his first 26.2-mile run in a very respectable 3 hours, 51 minutes.
Last month, Blake took part in an Easter Egg Roll activity program for children at the White House. He met President Obama for the first time.
“That was amazing,” Blake said. “He is truly an inspiration for so many and an inspiration for me. I voted for him twice and I was proud to meet him. He told me he thought I handled the situation in New York well.”
Blake hasn’t reached a resolution with New York City regarding a September, 2015, incident in which the mild-mannered tennis star was slammed to the sidewalk and handcuffed outside Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt Hotel by a police officer who mistook him for an identity-theft suspect.
“There are a lot of situations where there is an unsympathetic victim,” Blake said. “A lot of times, people don’t believe someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time or that someone wasn’t doing anything wrong. A lot of people are, well, they’re cynics. If that happened to me inside a liquor store at 2 a.m., people might have said, ‘What was he doing in that neighborhood?’ or something like that.
“But, for me, when it was noon in the middle of Manhattan and you’re on your way to a U.S. Open appearance, it was pretty tough to be an unsympathetic victim; I wasn’t up to no good. But I was happy to give a voice to people who don’t usually have a voice. Because there are so many good cops, we need to hold the bad ones accountable.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff