Victoria Duval takes Manhattan…for a day

A seventeen year-old Haitian-American female tennis player named Victoria Duval became the top story line early last week in Flushing Meadows, as she beat 2011 champion Samantha Stosur in the first round of the U.S. Open.  Duval, who was held hostage at age 7 in Port-au-Prince in a home invasion, and whose father nearly died during the earthquake that ravaged Haiti in 2010, was an unknown on the professional circuit prior to the tournament.  American tennis fans are desperately searching for new blood in both the men’s and women’s games.   Duval was playing as a qualifier, having to win in the qualifying tournament just to gain entry to the main women’s draw.  The upset was indeed stunning, as few fans even knew her name before beating the 11th-seeded Stosur.  Duval fell quickly in the second round to established star Daniela Hantuchova.  After watching 15th-seeded Sloane Stephens, another young American on the rise, drop her quarterfinal match with the indefatigable Serena Williams, it’s nice to know there are other possible stars on the rise.

Her post-match interview is charmingly sweet:


From Sports Illustrated‘s Jon Wertheim (whose commentary is smart and honest):

NEW YORK — On a rainy Wednesday, the kind of day that intensifies our anticipation of a covered court at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the talk of the U.S. Open still spun around Victoria Duval, the irresistible 17-year-old who knocked off 2011 champion Sam Stosur on Tuesday.

For Duval, this was a tremendous victory. But for all the adults on the scene — the marketers, the media, the sponsors, the agents, the coaches and, not least, the USTA — this was a dream result as well.

An ascendant player arrives on the big stage. She has the requisite “backstory,” the term of art to describe the ability to tell a larger narrative through this athlete. (Surely you’ve heard about her kidnapping as a 7-year-old and her father’s remarkable survival during the 2010 Haitian earthquake.) That Duval speaks flawless (if impossibly high-pitched) English and is able to address the crowd here in her native tongue doesn’t hurt. Nor does the fact that she is (sort of) a product of the much-embattled USTA.

Tennis tends to eat its young. And that’s after assaulting them in other ways: drowning them in hype, peppering them with requests and burdening them with expectation. The compendium of upstart players who rode a wave after a successful tournament only to crash ashore is a vast one. Duval had barely finished giving her endearing postmatch interview on Tuesday — winning over still more fans — when she was being compared to other prospects at her age. To Venus Williams, who broke through in 1997, when she made the final as an unseeded player in her U.S. Open debut. And to Melanie Oudin, the cautionary tale, who reached the quarterfinals here in 2009 and has seldom been heard from again.

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