Serena and Venus Williams won emotional first-round matches at the US Open on Monday after a ceremony honoring Althea Gibson, the first black Grand Slam champion, and other African-American women.
The Williams sisters, the most successful black players in tennis history with a combined 14 Slam titles, each advanced with straight-set triumphs at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where each has twice lifted the US Open champion's trophy.
"It was definitely a tough act to follow," Venus Williams said. "This was really a night the Williamses need to win. I felt really motivated to definitely bring in the win because of the whole night."
Venus Williams, who won her sixth Slam title last month at Wimbledon, beat Hungarian Kira Nagy 6-2, 6-1 while eighth seed Serena, who won her eighth Slam crown at January's Australian Open, ousted Germany's Angelique Kerber 6-3, 7-5.
A host of African-American groundbreakers attended the ceremony honoring Gibson, whose 1956 French championship victory was the first Slam title by a black player. She also won the 1957 and 1958 US Open and Wimbledon crowns.
"If it wasn't for her, it's hard to believe I would even be out here," Serena Williams said.
Retired heptathlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Vonetta Flowers, the first black woman to win a Winter Olympics gold medal, were among those on hand.
"The ceremony was awesome," Venus Williams said. "It was very emotional. I was watching inside. I was so moved. I have all the opportunities today because of people like Althea. I just try to follow in her footsteps."
"It's a lot to live up to. It was very special. She was such an amazing woman. She was inspiring for me. I use it even now. I just wanted to come out and live up to Althea's legacy," Venus said.
"Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin, 65, sang her classic Respect and was struck by the power of the moment.
"It was wonderful, tremendous," Franklin said. "What a fabulous group of women ... [Athletes like Gibson] were the frontrunners. They were men and women of courage who stepped out in spite of the adversity they would face."
Several of the women who took part in the ceremony greeted Venus Williams as she walked to the court.
"It was exciting. It was more than fantastic. I wanted to stay and say hello. For that second I was just enjoying the moment," she said.
"It was amazing, just the energy of all the smiles and the well wishes, the power and the spirit and Althea and the things she went through. We all are really living up to that. It's amazing," Venus said.
Roger Federer and Justine Henin played up to their No. 1 rankings with straight-set victories, and US prospects Donald Young and John Isner played up to their potential.
There were few upsets. Among the seeded players who lost were No. 17 Tatiana Golovin on the women's side and crowd favorite No. 18 Marcos Baghdatis in the men's draw.
Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick were scheduled to play their first-round matches last night.