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Net Game: Blake's Mom Tells Tales

Betty Blake's best-known family member is her son, James , who at one time was ranked as one of the top five tennis players in the world. But the Fairfielder says the initial inspiration for her new book was her husband, Thomas. When he died of stomach cancer in 2004, she set out to write about his influence on their boys.

"It was just something to keep me occupied, keep me from grieving so much," Betty says. "Just to keep me thinking about him."

Her book , "Mix It Up, Make It Nice: Secrets of a Tennis Mom," uses her sons' story to discuss the culture of youth tennis. James followed his older brother onto the court at age 3 and immediately showed talent. But unlike other tennis prodigies who move to Florida to focus on the courts, the Blake brothers stayed in Fairfield and focused on schoolwork.

"There was no way any of that was going to come in the way of education," Betty says. "In fact, one of [my husband's] proudest day was when our oldest son, Thomas, got into Harvard."

James also spent two years at Harvard but left to pursue his pro career. The Blake family agonized over the decision. Yet they all agreed that he should take the chance while young.

The decision worked out: At one point, James was the top-ranked American male player. He reached No. 4 in the world in 2005, even after James dealt with the tragedy of his father's death and his own illness that followed. And while James is still playing at 30, Betty trusts he'll soon keep his promise to return to college.

But James didn't take in all of Betty's lessons right away. He is now regarded as one of the best sports in tennis—if you listen closely, you can hear him yell "good shot" to opponents after his misses. But before the tutelage of coach Brian Barker, James often created a scene.

"He was a brat," Betty says. "He always thought he should win everything, and if he didn't he would fling his rackets."

Betty will share more of her story from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Fairfield Library , 1080 Old Post Road.

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