James Blake and Brian Barker Inducted Into USTANE Hall of Fame
NEWPORT, RI - The USTA New England Tennis Hall of Fame has two new members; Connecticut legends James Blake and Brian Barker were officially inducted in a ceremony on June 11 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI as the Class of 2020.
Blake, a three-time Major singles quarterfinalist, and Barker, his longtime coach and top player in his own right, were surrounded by friends and family in celebration of their life’s work both on and off the court.
“It’s really an honor celebrating the accomplishments and all the hard work that went into the wins and losses, and I learned tons from the losses,” Blake said. “But it was really about the people in the room. That’s what I’ve gotten the most out of from tennis, the relationships I’ve gained, and some of the most special people in my life.”
Blake was accompanied by his wife Emily and two daughters Riley and Emma and was introduced by his longtime friend and on-court opponent, Evan Paushter.
Blake played on the ATP tour from 1999-2013, where he achieved a high ranking of No. 4 in the world. Prior to turning pro, he was the top junior both in New England and Nationally and then went on to earn National Player of the Year honors at Harvard.
From the age of 12 through the better part of his professional career, Blake had Barker by his side as a coach, mentor and friend. Without him, Blake says he never could have reached the level of success he did.
“I would never be here without Brian, so I’m happy to go into [the New England Tennis Hall of Fame] with him. He is someone I always talked about being one of the best X’s and O’s coaches, but more than that, he’s just a person who makes others better, and that’s what a coach is and should be,” Blake said. “If I could think of an absolute, basically a perfect coach, that’s what Brian is. He cares about his athletes, cares about them as individuals, not just paychecks, so to be here with him, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. He’s one of the most important people in my life.”
As a player, Barker won five New England Junior Sectional Championships, multiple sportsmanship awards, was named two-time team MVP at the University of South Carolina and had a brief stint on the ATP tour before turning to coaching full time.
As a coach, he toured the world with Blake and found a home teaching at the Tennis Club of Trumbull, where Blake trained as a junior.
“This is certainly nothing I ever thought about or worked towards,” Barker said. “I’ve just tried to do the same things that I teach the kids, to be nice to people, do your best, enjoy the ride, take it on the chin if it doesn’t go your way, and it worked out. I ended up being inducted into the New England Tennis Hall of Fame with all these great players and people.”
Barker was joined by family, friends, co-workers and students as he received the ultimate honor in New England tennis. He was presented by his longtime friend, Bob Dzurenda.
“To have people show up to support me, especially ones I had no idea were coming, meant the world to me. It gives you such a warm feeling and makes you realize maybe it was worth it all those long hours. This was really special,” Barker said.
Like Blake, Barker shared similar sentiments about the duo’s relationship. While it was foremost a student-teacher relationship, the natural friendship and mutual respect was present throughout.
“Coaching on the tour is fun, but it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of down time, and doing it with James made it super special,” he added. “We had such a deep friendship and bond and always had each other’s backs. We would always pick each other up when things were going wrong in tennis or in life, and so I couldn’t have dreamed of coaching a player that would’ve been more fun or more rewarding,” Barker said.
Blake and Barker join an exclusive list of New England Tennis Hall of Famers that includes former pro players, coaches, mentors and ambassadors of the game.
Avis Murray, a member of the New England Tennis Hall of Fame Class of 2009, was honored alongside Blake and Barker as the 2020 Irving Levine Award recipient for her lifetime contributions to tennis.
Irving Levine held more New England No. 1 rankings than any other player, and in 1996, he founded the New England Senior Tennis Foundation. The award was created in his honor shortly after his passing in 2018.
Murray, who is in her 52nd year of coaching tennis at Bass Rocks Golf Club and the Manchester Athletic Club, joins Henry Tiberio and Dorcas & Ken Miller (combined) as the third recipient of the award.
Patrick Little, Morning News Anchor for WPRI Channel 12 in Providence, emceed the event that also featured USTA New England board members, staff, current hall of farmers and more.
Nominations for the 2023 Hall of Fame are now open. To nominate someone, click here.
To view photos from the event, click here.