Duval bows out of US Open but opens door to big career
NEW YORK -- CBS News, CNN, ESPN and NBC's Today. That was Victoria Duval's draw on Wednesday after her stunning victory over 2011 champion Sam Stosur in the first round of the U.S. Open the night before. The 17-year-old, ranked No. 296 but easily top 10 in the charm department, proved to be a delightful subject for Big Media and one with a harrowing backstory that made her even more of a television booker's dream.
Reality set in on Thursday night as we were reminded that Duval has plenty of miles to travel as a tennis player. She has oodles of potential but lacks match experience. Separated by 13 years, 130 Grand Slam matches and 248 spots in the rankings, Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia took out Duval in clinical fashion, a 6-2, 6-3 victory in 1 hour and 12 minutes. Hantuchova won the final 11 points of the match as Duvall looked all of her age when things concluded under the lights on Court 17.
"I think she has great potential," said the 30-year-old Hantuchova, ranked No. 48 and one of 16 thirty-something women in the draw. "I just tried to stay calm and do what I had to do."
Asked what she learned from her four days of wonderland, Duval said, "That I'm capable of playing at this level."
This is true. Duval has terrific groundstrokes off both wings and covers the court exceptionally well. But her serve lacks pace, and rarely did she put her opponent at risk (Duval's first serves averaged a paltry 85 mph, whereas Hantuchova was at 98 mph). Duval managed to win only 49 percent of her first-serve points. That's way too low to win consistently against the top players.
Playing more matches will obviously help. Duval led 2-1 in the opening set before Hantuchova rolled off the next five games to win the first set in 32 minutes. The second set was much more competitive. Duval broke to take a 2-1 lead again before Hantuchova broke back immediately. The match turned for good in the eighth game of the second set with Hantuchova leading 4-3. Duval, looking very uncomfortable, was broken at love. Hantuchova then served out the match with little resistance.
"I don't think I ever felt free in the match," Duval said. "I don't think it had to do with the score or anything. She hits really hard. I couldn't quite get myself going. I gave myself a couple chances, but I just never felt comfortable."
This experience will be good for her. Earlier this month, Duval lost to Brooke Austin at the Girls' 18s National Championships -- that's a long way from where she has come in less than 30 days. Last year, Duval earned a wild card into the main draw, where she lost to Kim Clijsters in the Belgian's last career win. She set a goal at the beginning of this year to enter the top 150 and has a great chance to make that happen.
"I know that was a big win [over Stosur], but I'm not going to go above and beyond myself," Duval said. "I'm going to set reasonable goals. This was just another tournament. I'm going to keep working hard. I did better than last year, so I'm happy about that."
Duval, who stands 5-foot-10, said she is still growing, and one doctor told her to expect to be 6 feet.
"I think once my body just settles in, I'll be able to work a little more on my fitness," Duval said.
Kathy Rinaldi, the USTA national coach and a former top-10 player, first met Duval five years ago and had coached her earlier this year. According to Rinaldi, Duval must improve her strength and her serve, but she is convinced of Duval's future success. She also loves her attitude.
"She has always been mature yet so playful and so young at heart," Rinaldi told SI.com. "Just an adorable girl. She is close with her family and has a good grasp on life. It's fun to watch her success. I've been listening to that little voice since I first met her. She gets you wrapped around her finger with that voice."
That's true, and her charm and upbeat attitude made her a media darling this week. Duval called the attention overwhelming but said she enjoyed it for the most part. This is only the beginning. The girl with the little voice is headed for big things.