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Blake, Past Champ Hewitt Post Straight-Sets Wins

San Jose, U.S.A.

James Blake got his 2011 ATP World Tour campaign off to a winning start as he dismissed qualifier Jesse Levine 7-5, 6-1 in an all-American first-round match Monday at the SAP Open, the first North American tournament of the season.

The 293rd-ranked Levine took the first break to go up 5-4, but managed to win just one more game the remainder of the match as Blake went four for 11 on break point chances.

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“It was a little tricky there at the start,” said Blake. “I was definitely not taking care of the break points, the big points you need to win to win matches at this level. I kind of got through that. Unfortunately he got a little hurt in the second set and that made my job a little easier, but I definitely feel like I was starting to play a lot better.

“It’s really the one thing you can’t practise for, no matter how long you’re hitting or how long you’re on the practice court, you can’t practise for those pressure situations. I thought it might take a little while to get back into playing my best at the big times, so hopefully this is a good step and it’ll keep getting better.”

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Former World No. 4 Blake began the week at No. 170 in the South African Airways 2011 ATP Rankings. He finished last season ranked outside of the Top 100 for the first time since 2000, hampered by knee and shoulder injuries.

“It wasn’t too painful today, which is a good thing,” said the 31 year old. “It’s getting better and better, and getting stronger, so I’m excited about that. The main goal right now is to stay healthy and to keep doing everything I need to to keep the body right and then go out there and see how I can perform if I’m healthy.”

Past champion Lleyton Hewitt advanced with a 6-3, 6-3 win over German Bjorn Phau in one hour and 11 minutes. Despite dropping serve twice, Hewitt capitalised on five of nine break points to improve to a 3-0 record against Phau.

Hewitt, 29, is making his fifth appearance in San Jose. He won the title in 2002 (d. Agassi) and was a runner-up on his next visit in 2006 (l. to Murray).

American Donald Young notched his first match win since last July as he defeated German Dustin Brown 7-6(2), 6-4 in one hour and 15 minutes. The 21-year-old Young broke World No. 99 Brown twice, while saving four of five break point chances faced on serve.

Young, formerly a No. 1 junior, made his only other main draw appearance this season as a qualifier at the Australian Open (l. to Cilic).

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A pair of Americans kicked off main draw proceedings at the ATP World Tour 250 tennis tournament with victories over qualifiers. Michael Russell eased past countryman Alex Kuznetsov 6-4, 6-2, while wild card Tim Smyczek prevailed against Colombian Robert Farah 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.

Uzbekistani fifth seed Denis Istomin snapped a three-match losing streak by defeating ATP World Tour debutant Roman Borvanov 6-3, 7-5. Istomin reached the semi-finals on his SAP Open debut last year, falling to eventual champion Fernando Verdasco in three sets.

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