By TANALEE SMITH, Associated Press Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- James Blake had two reasons to celebrate Tuesday -- his first-round win at the Australian Open and the inauguration of the first African-American president of the United States.
“I’m always proud to say I’m an American, but I’m going to be especially proud at 4 a.m. here,” Blake said. “It’s going to be … a very significant presidency to have the first African-American in power. Hopefully it will knock down more doors.”
The ninth-seeded American -- son of a black father and white mother, as is President Barack Obama -- said the new president was the best qualified to bring needed change to the country.
“We’re in some situations that are less than ideal in our country,” Blake said. “I think if there’s any man for the job that’s ahead of him that can deal with the tasks and the pressures of being president in this tumultuous time, it’s Barack Obama.”
Blake, who said he donated money to Obama’s campaign, was unlikely to watch the inauguration live in the early hours Australian time but said his TiVo at home in Tampa was already set to record it.
He was not the only American in Melbourne who was interested in the ceremony back home. Serena Williams said she got “chill bumps” on her arm as she watched TV coverage of pre-inauguration events before her match Tuesday.
“This is an amazing moment for American history,” she said. “I’m a big fan of African-American history, learning my roots so I can be a better person. You just look at all the things that we’ve come through. Now to have this opportunity is amazing.”
Williams had a straight-sets win, and Blake also eased to a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 decision over Canadian Frank Dancevic.
“I think Frank played great in that third set, really pushed me,” Blake said. “I kind of weathered the storm with him playing what I considered great tennis in that third set. So I’m happy with it. Get out of there in three sets, be ready for the next round.”
Dancevic broke Blake’s serve three times but the American’s go-for-broke style constantly pressured the Canadian. Blake played his best on the important points to become the fourth American man to advance.
“Luckily I didn’t panic. That’s one thing that’s better about me at 29 than it was at probably 21 or 22,” Blake said. “I have the confidence, the knowledge that I can go five sets.”
He said he would work to improve his first-serve percentage -- it was at 66 percent Tuesday -- for his next match, in which he plays qualifier Sebastien de Chaunac of France.
“I’m mainly going to hit a few serves tomorrow in practice and just kind of hopefully hope for the best in the next round,” Blake said. “I was actually hitting it great in practice last week so hopefully this is just a one-time thing. The way I’m playing, I feel pretty good.”
Blake reached the quarterfinals at last year’s Australian Open -- his third Grand Slam quarterfinal -- and finished fourth at the Beijing Olympics.
His highest singles ranking was No. 4 in 2006, after a recovering from a broken neck and a case of shingles in 2004. He is now ranked 10th.