Victoria Duval is only 17, but she has seen a lot during her short life.
Born in Miami to Haitian parents who are both physicians, the family moved back to Haiti when she was an infant. At age 7, Duval and her cousins were briefly held hostage by armed robbers but released unharmed. Shortly afterward, she and her two older brothers moved back to Florida with their mother, Nadine, while her father, Jean-Maurice, stayed behind because of the need for doctors in Haiti.
In 2010, when the earthquake hit Haiti, Duval’s father was buried alive under the family home. Seriously injured and left with a paralyzed arm, he somehow managed to dig himself out and when found was airlifted to a Fort Lauderdale hospital.
Through it all, Duval has maintained a happy-go-luck personality off the court and a feisty competitive edge on the court.
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On Wednesday, the 376th-ranked Duval used that gritty determination to pull off a 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 upset over 66th-ranked Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic at the Sony Open in Key Biscayne.
“I think that first set was very important because it could’ve gone either way,” said Duval, who had her serve broken three times in the opening set but pulled ahead to win the tiebreaker. “I wasn’t really nervous, but it was like a really exhausting match. I’m just getting to know the tour, so these wins definitely help.”
It was only her second WTA Tour-level victory with the first coming last month against Johanna Larsson of Sweden at the Memphis tournament, which was her second high-level pro event.
Duval earned a wild card into the 2012 U.S. Open as a perk for winning the USTA National Hardcourt 18s title last summer. In her U.S. Open debut, Duval lost to three-time U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters 6-3, 6-1 in the first round. But it was clear that Duval made an impression on Clijsters, who asked the teen to pose for a picture after the match.
“Even though I felt I got crushed by Kim, I felt like I was hanging in there with her a bit,” Duval said. “I think it all started for me at that U.S. Open, and I’m just working harder and harder.”
Duval was off the court for almost a year until last May. She had a couple of stress fractures and there were concerns about her overplaying because of growth spurts.
She’s now 5-10 and told by doctors she’s still growing.
She had been working with Nick Bollettieri in Bradenton but switched last summer to the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton. Duval’s dad lives in Montreal and her mom is attempting to sell the house in Bradenton so she can move to Boca Raton, so for the moment she lives in the training center’s dormitory.
In Boca Raton, she trains with Jamie Hampton, Madison Keys and last year’s No. 1 junior girl, Taylor Townsend.
“It’s interesting,” she said of living in the dorms. “But I really like the USTA. And it’s good for me to play with the others because they’re all more powerful than I am. Being at the USTA we have a lot of talks about boosting each other to get to the top, to get as high as we can be.”
At 17, Duval’s limited to playing only 16 WTA Tour-level events, so she plans on playing junior events as well this season, especially at the Grand Slams.
Hampton also put forth a confident 6-4, 6-3 first-round win over Monica Niculescu of Romania during the day.
At 23, Hampton is just starting to garner attention in the game. At the Australian Open, she challenged defending and eventual champion Victoria Azarenka in the third round before a back injury put her on the losing end of their three-set encounter.
“My thoughts looking back to the Azarenka match are it was disappointing to lose but it told me that I’m on the right track,” Hampton said. “I just need to keep improving and things will fall into place. I think as I play more I’ll get used to those kind of situations in playing a big match.”
Unlike Duval, who showed that youth can prevail over experience, 20-year-old American hopeful Ryan Harrison fell flat against 33-year-old James Bake in the featured night match.
Harrison never appeared to have any fight in the 6-2, 6-2 match that Blake closed out in 57 minutes.