Victoria Duval, even in defeat, becomes a star at the US Open - NBC Sports

Victoria Duval, even in defeat, becomes a star at the US Open
American teenager's rise from childhood tragedy captures nation's attention
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August 30, 2013, 9:30 am

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NEW YORK – Cedric Duval watched his sister, Victoria, fall to the floor inside their Manhattan hotel late Wednesday night.

“We’re waiting on our mom to bring the key card to the room, exhausted,” he said, “and she starts rolling on her back.”

“Can I just sleep here?” she asked on the floor. Cedric laughed, recounting the story, and said she was “squeaking like a seal.”

Those innocent moments and the preceding 30-minute drive from the USTA National Center were the only times Cedric saw his sister in between her first- and second-round matches at the U.S. Open.

Duval, 17, the early darling here, lost to former world No. 5 Daniela Hantuchova 6-2, 6-3 on Thursday night. It was a routine defeat following 48 hours that were anything but ordinary.

Duval came to Queens ranked No. 296 and received a wild card into qualifying last week just to make the main draw.

Just about everything changed after Duval upset 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur on Tuesday evening. There were tweets from Lil’ Wayne and Amar’e Stoudemire and appearances on The TODAY Show, Good Morning America and CNN.

“I had goosebumps watching it in the locker room,” she said.

Her backstory became the story. Born in Miami, she grew up in Haiti, where Duval and cousins were held hostage by robbers when she was 7. When she was 14 and living in the U.S., her father, Jean-Maurice, an obstetrician and gynecologist still in Haiti, was buried for half a day under the rubble of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

After Tuesday’s win, kids recognized her and told her she was a role model.

“Yeah, it was overwhelming,” Duval said of the media attention. “But I think this is what it’s all about.”

The sudden fame, while cool, was “completely out of control,” Cedric said.

“I can’t even break it down for you,” said Cedric, wearing a black shirt with white initials DON (a motto, “Dreams over Nightmares”), sitting down for a sandwich a few hours before Duval’s match Thursday. “She’s blowing up on Facebook.”

One of her coaches, Todd Morelle, sat next to Cedric and Jean-Maurice and said he felt “at the eye of a hurricane” and made a Beatles reference. He doesn’t know how media got his cell phone number, but he’s put an ear to the greeting “Is this Coach Todd?” the last few days.

It must be remembered that Duval played in only her second career Grand Slam event. She is still of an age where news journalists are taught to refer to people by their first names on second reference.

She enjoys SpongeBob SquarePants and, on Wednesday, played on her phone for Cedric the viral video of Miley Cyrus “twerking” from MTV’s Video Music Awards. She arrived Thursday morning wearing a bright yellow T-shirt from the USTA Girls National Championships, where she lost in the quarterfinals.

Yes, she should be applauded, heavily, for knocking out Stosur. The question is how much attention, hype and expectation should be placed on the shoulders of the high-pitched, soft-spoken player with glasses that make it tougher for her to play at night.

Take Melanie Oudin, who was also 17 when she reached the quarterfinals here in 2009 and barely blipped since.

Take the biggest upset Thursday – No. 4 seed Sara Errani’s elimination. Afterward, the Italian nine years older and six inches shorter than Duval said she’s crumbling under the pressure of her ranking.

“I don’t want to play. I don’t want to stay there on the court. I feel very bad,” Errani said. “I have to find the way to find the motivation to go there, because if I go there and I know that if I lose is very bad, and if I win is normal is not a good thing.”

Which is why it was refreshing to see Duval not in a proper-noun arena, but scheduled for Court 11 (and moved to Court 17) on Thursday. In 2009, Oudin’s second-round match and her three ensuing matches were all on Arthur Ashe Stadium, capacity 23,000 and the largest tennis court in the world. (Granted, Oudin’s second-round match was against the No. 4 seed Elena Dementieva, much higher-profile than Hantuchova).

Likewise, ESPN2 focused on Rafael Nadal on Thursday night and only spent a few minutes on Duval’s match.

Nick Bollettieri, who runs the academy Duval has trained at in Florida, cautioned not to rush her development.

“Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when we had so many of the good young ones, all of them were getting pretty darn good at a young age,” he told Tennis.com. “Today, that does not happen. So when you do get somebody that springs out in the open at 17, 18 years old, (ranked) 259 in the world, that’s big news. However, that can be dangerous moves, too. This is when the support team is so important, and if she’s managed, slow down, take one step at a time.”

Here’s the skinny on Duval: She has game. She’s developing size (she’s 5-10 now, and a doctor said she could be 6-0, four inches shorter than her grandmother) and power and is impressively aggressive (perhaps too much so Thursday). She took one big step at this year’s U.S. Open after losing to Kim Clijsters in the first round in 2012.

But it was one step. There are 31 women who advanced farther than Duval, who is not the only American teen on the radar.

Madison Keys, 18, has made the second round of all four majors. Taylor Townsend, 17, won the Australian Open junior title in 2012 and made the Wimbledon junior final this year. Lauren Davis, 19, is ranked No. 70.

“I’m going to set reasonable goals,” said Duval, whose short-term carrot is to make the top 150. “This was just another tournament.”

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