Victoria Duval’s childlike high-pitched voice makes her seem much younger than her 17 years, but the Miami-born, Haitian-American teen showed the poise of a seasoned veteran Tuesday as she pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent U.S. Open history.
Ranked No. 296 in the world and forced to go through qualifying rounds because her ranking wasn’t high enough for the tournament draw, Duval relied on relentless defense and her huge heart to stun 11th-ranked former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round.
The crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium fell in love with bubbly, bespectacled Duval early in the match, serenaded her with “USA! USA!” chants, and roared as she leaped up and down to celebrate the biggest victory of her career.
And that was before they knew her fascinating back story, before they knew that at age 7 she was held hostage by armed robbers in her aunt’s Port-au-Prince house, before they knew that her father, Jean-Maurice, an obstetrician and gynecologist, was buried underneath a pile of rubble for 11 hours after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, sustaining a broken back, punctured lung, five broken ribs and paralysis of his left arm.
Upon learning her history, it is easier to understand Duval’s toughness under pressure.
After delighting the crowd Tuesday, Duval, who calls herself “goofy’’ and “childlike at heart,” entertained the media with a wide-ranging interview that covered everything from her favorite SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon character — “Gary the Snail, because he’s cute and doesn’t get enough credit” — to receiving a Twitter shout-out from Lil Wayne to the harrowing conditions her father faced in the earthquake and the “angels” who saved him.
She told reporters about benefactor Harry Kitchen, a Georgia developer, and his wife, Charlotte, who chartered a helicopter to airlift Duval’s father from Haiti to a Fort Lauderdale hospital, where he stayed more than two weeks. The Kitchens had met Duval at a tennis club in Atlanta when she lived there with her mother, Nadine.
“If it wasn’t for them, my dad definitely wouldn’t be here today,” Duval said. “Not everyone just pays $30,000 to fly a helicopter to save someone. Great story. They’re amazing people. I mean, they’re angels. We couldn’t have found better people.
“They wouldn’t let planes in because there was no runway. My dad, they found him after 11 hours. It was incredible. I’m so grateful, I don’t know how he managed. He’s not able to work now. But he’s improving so much.
“Emotionally, it was hard at first. But he’s as happy as he’s ever been. He had a couple surgeries. We’re just so happy that he’s in a good state of mind right now, that he’s here with us. Life is short and I take nothing for granted.”
Duval was born in Miami, but spent her early childhood in Port-au-Prince with her parents and brothers, Leo and Cedric. Her mother gave up her neonatology practice to move with her children to Boca Raton, where all three became serious about tennis. Jean-Maurice stayed behind to run his medical practice.
Duval prefers not to talk about the violent robbery at her aunt’s house.