NEW YORK — Her brothers played tennis. Victoria Duval was more into ballet.
But while tagging along to watch her brothers at a tournament, the director said Duval would be better off playing than sitting there watching in her mom’s lap.
“It was a 10-and-under tournament, I think, and I won it,” Duval said. “I had no idea where to stand on the court or anything. After that, my mom said, ‘OK, you have to choose now.’ Tennis seemed to be appropriate.”
That’s the short version of how the 17-year-old with the squeaky voice found herself at the U.S. Open, decked out in a pink dress, blue tennis shorts and square, white-rimmed glasses, knocking off one of the tournament’s past champions Tuesday night.
She celebrated her 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 upset of 11th-seeded Sam Stosur with two huge leaps in the center of Armstrong Stadium that were accompanied by an even bigger smile. Her family turned their corner of the stands into a little mosh pit, sharing hugs and high-fives as they watched Victoria break through. With the win, she placed herself in the ever-growing line of great American tennis hopes.
“We’re obviously trying to make American tennis become what it used to be,” Duval said. “We’re all working toward the same goal. We’re all a tight-knit group. Helping each other is important. I think we’re on an amazing path.”
Tuesday was a good day for Americans at the U.S. Open on both the men’s and women’s side.
Sparked by wins from John Isner and Sam Querrey, the American men went 5-2 – setting aside, at least for a day, all the recent headlines about the demise of the men’s sport in the United States.
Meanwhile, Duval, ranked 296th, joined Sloane Stephens, Christina McHale, both Williams sisters and four other U.S. players in the second round of the women’s draw.
Duval, the youngest of the bunch, is a self-described goofball who claims Gary the Snail as her favorite character on SpongeBob SquarePants — “Gary doesn’t get enough credit,” she insists — and explains she just went through the latest in a series of growth spurts that now has her standing at 5-foot-10.
She received a wild card entry into the tournament last year and was dispatched quickly in Arthur Ashe Stadium by another former champion, Kim Clijsters.
This time, she took the hard route, moving into the main draw through qualifying. Her reward was a match against the Aussie, Stosur, who won this tournament only two years ago.
Stosur said she felt like she gave the match away, and the stats back that up. She committed 56 unforced errors while blowing a one-set lead, then a 4-2 advantage in the second.
Duval didn’t argue with that.
“Obviously it’s a great feeling to beat a past champion, and Sam is amazing,” Duval said. “Although she didn’t play nearly her best today, I played amazing, so I’ll take it.”
Her smiling ebullience gives no hint of what she went through during her tumultuous childhood.
Duval was born in Florida but grew up in her parents’ homeland of Haiti where, as a young child, she and some cousins were taken hostage by robbers.
“It’s not a good memory, so I’ve tried to forget as much as I could about it,” she said. “I don’t remember too much of it anymore, which is great.”
In 2010, when a massive earthquake struck the island country, her father, a doctor, was buried in rubble for nearly 12 hours. His legs were broken but he survived and got off the island thanks to an American friend who was able to get a helicopter to bail him out.
All of this makes tennis seem not so important.
“There’s a lot to be thankful for,” she said during her on-court interview after the win. “I don’t take anything for granted. You never know what can happen any day. My dad’s fortunate to be here. … I thank God every day for everything that’s happened. Life is short.”
On this night, however, it felt as though life as a tennis star was just beginning: She received a text from Billie Jean King and got a shout-out on Twitter from Lil Wayne.
“I don’t have Twitter,” Duval conceded. “I’m going to go hit that up. Maybe I have to create one and be like ‘@weezy thankyou.'”
Before that, though, more tennis.
And maybe a new role to play — as America’s next up-and-coming tennis star.
“That’s what I’m working for,” she said. “If God will let it, then let’s go.”
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