American Blake shocked to still inspire at U.S. Open

James Blake of the U.S. hits a return to Kristof Vliegen of Belgium during the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York August 31, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

NEW YORK (Reuters) - James Blake shrugs off the suggestion that he can still inspire others after overcoming serious childhood health problems to carve an unlikely career in tennis.

The New Yorker delighted his home crowd while he coasted through his opening match of this year’s U.S. Open with a 6-3 6-2 6-4 victory against Belgium’s Kristof Vliegen on Tuesday.

As a teenager, Blake had to wear a back brace for 18 hours a day after being diagnosed with severe scoliosis.

His ability to overcome adversity was duly recognized at the opening ceremony the day before his first-round match alongside the likes of Martina Navratilova.

“I was just proud to know that I was among those that inspire others - that’s something that’s shocking to me,” the former world number four said after the Vliegen win.

“To me, it seemed like I was going through life day to day. I remember people talking about the scoliosis being such a great effort, wearing a back brace, to me it seemed normal, because that’s the only thing I knew.”

Blake revealed friends and on-court rivals had suggested his part in the opening ceremony had looked like a farewell to the tournament but he insisted, at the age of 30, he had no plans to retire.

“A couple of people mentioned something like that to me,” he said. “They’re trying to get rid of me. I hope that’s not the case. It’s still exciting for me to win a match here and to have fans that are excited to see me play.”

Editing by Frank Pingue