Champs US off to a great start

PERTH: A dreadlock-less James Blake helped top seeds the United States power to a first-round victory over the Czech Republic in the Hopman Cup here yesterday. 

Blake, whose trademark locks have been chopped off in favour of a crewcut for charity, showed plenty of style to overcome his higher-ranked rival Jiri Novak Czech Republic 4-6, 6-1, 7-5. 

Earlier his teammate, world number five Lindsay Davenport, had put the USA on the path to victory when she defeated a gallant Barbora Strycova 6-4, 6-3. 

The American pair later teamed to win the dead mixed doubles rubber 6-3, 6-2. 

Blake, renowned for his good looks and flowing locks almost as much as he is for his pace and agility around the court, said cutting his hair for the first time in three years was no big deal. 

“It's gone!,” he laughed when asked about the shaved hairstyle. 

“It's cooler. I was amazed I let it go for three years. I think everyone thought it was a bigger deal than I did.” 

Blake said the hair would be auctioned off during the Australian Open in Melbourne later this month to help raise funds for an inner-city basketball team back in the United States. 

The world number 37 also competed in clothing sent to him from a sponsor in Australia after his luggage went missing somewhere between Los Angeles and Australia. 

His match against the 13th-ranked Novak provided plenty of entertainment with Blake's powerful forehand the deciding feature in a close encounter. 

“Jiri and I have had some battles over the last couple of years and I knew what to expect,” Blake said. 

“He plays so solid. That's why he's in the top 20 in the world and stays there. I played as well as I could hope and this is like my first match of the year.” 

Davenport, 27, is on the way back following surgery last October to repair chronic nerve damage to her left foot. 

“I was really happy to get the opportunity to come here and try and work out some of the problems you have coming back to training,” Davenport said. 

Davenport said she had struggled early on to find form against her much lower ranked opponent and was surprised by the 17-year-old's strength. 

“I felt like it was tough out there. I felt a little bit awkward at times, not quite in the rhythm of playing but that's why I'm here and hopefully it will get better,” she said. – AFP  

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