NEW YORK — Victoria Duval, a 17-year-old American qualifier ranked No. 296 and playing in only her second Grand Slam tournament, stunned 2011 champion Sam Stosur 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round of the U.S. Open on Tuesday.
Rapper Lil’ Wayne and New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire tweeted congratulations to Duval after her first victory in a major. The funny thing is, Duval isn’t even on Twitter. Asked why she’s never joined the popular networking service, Duval responded, “Because I’m not famous.”
That’s slowly about to change.
If the bespectacled Duval looks somewhat familiar, it’s because she just so happens to be the answer to the perfect pub quiz question: She’s the last woman Kim Clijsters defeated before her retirement. That match took place under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium last year, when a then 16-year-old Duval, who received a wild card into the tournament after winning the USTA Girls National 18s title, charmed the New York crowd with her quirky glasses, Urkel-ian voice and wide-eyed wonder. She lost 6-3, 6-1, but she walked away with the experience of playing a Slam champion on the biggest tennis court in the world.
“It helped me a little bit,” Duval said after Tuesday’s match. “The crowd didn’t seem so overwhelming because I felt like I was in that position before.
“I am very goofy off the court. I think I’m very much a child at heart. On the court, you have to be a warrior because that’s just the sport we are in. Off the court, I think it’s important to have fun and be a good role model for other people. My motto is: Have fun.”
Her disarming innocence belies a backstory tinged with violence and near-tragedy. When she was 7, Duval, a Haitian-American who was born in Miami, was held at gunpoint for hours by armed robbers while at an aunt’s house in Port-au-Prince before her captors freed her and her family. Her parents, Jean-Maurice and Nadine Duval, decided to leave Haiti and move the family to Florida.
Duval’s father was in Port-au-Prince to attend to his physician’s practice in 2010 when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake ripped through Haiti. Her father was buried under the rubble of their home and wasn’t found for 11 hours. He suffered broken legs, a broken arm and seven broken ribs that punctured his lung, yet managed to dig himself out. He was air-lifted back to Florida, and despite developing paralysis in his arm, he recovered.
Duval says she tried to block those memories of the past.
“It was definitely financially difficult, especially after the earthquake,” she said. “My dad wasn’t able to work anymore. I’ve been very fortunate. A couple family members have helped me. Hopefully with this win today, that will change a little bit.”
Duval may have looked overwhelmed when she took to Arthur Ashe Stadium a year ago, but she wore a decidedly different look on Louis Armstrong Stadium on Tuesday. The ever-present Oakleys were still there, but behind them Duval didn’t have the look of a newbie. Noticeably bigger and stronger than when Clijsters bullied her off the court, Duval showed a surprising ability to hang right with the big-hitting Stosur off the ground. The improved power, particularly on her forehand, was notable, but it was how she chose to use that power and the intent behind her shots that suggested she has developed a refinement to her game.
Duval jumped on any short ball and launched her 5-foot-10 frame into every forehand, gunning for winners. When Stosur wisely pulled her wide, Duval’s defensive instincts kicked in and she surprised Stosur time after time with her ability to not just get to the ball, but send a sharp-angled reply back.
Still, there were reminders that she was a 17-year-old playing in just her second Slam. Serving for the first set at 5-4, Duval double-faulted to fall into a 0-30 hole and was broken. Stosur then reeled off three straight games to take the set.
Down 4-2 in the second set, it was Duval’s turn to yank back the momentum, winning four straight games to force a third set. In the end, Stosur’s inability to take advantage of Duval’s underpowered serve (it’s a shot that has to improve as she gets older) doomed the 29-year-old Australian. Stosur sent too many returns into the bottom of the net and gave away point after point.
“She went for her forehand a lot more than maybe what I was expecting, from what I could kind of find out beforehand,” Stosur said. “She hit that cross‑court forehand well. Moved relatively well, all that. She played a pretty good match. It was certainly a match where I feel like I could have played a lot better than what I did.”
Duval finally got the edge when Stosur threw in an ill-timed double-fault at 3-3 in the third set and followed that up with two unforced errors to hand Duval the break. The teen couldn’t hide her nerves when she struggled to serve out the match at 5-3, but on her fourth match point she put away a forehand winner.
“Obviously, it’s a great feeling to beat a past champion,” Duval said. “And Sam is amazing. Although she didn’t play nearly her best today, I played amazing, so I’ll take it. But I have to worry about the next match, so I can’t celebrate too much.”
Stosur, the 11th seed, took her share of the blame for the loss. She hit 56 unforced errors to 29 winners, while Duval finished with 35 errors and 25 winners.
“I feel like credit to her,” Stosur said. “I’m not going to be a sore loser and say she didn’t do anything. But I think I certainly helped her out, that’s for sure.”
Duval plays 48th-ranked Daniela Hantuchova on Thursday.