(September 3, 2015) FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Just over a year ago Victoria Duval was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma just one day before the start of Wimbledon. She lost in the second round. Just the year before, the American of Haitian descent qualified for the US Open and upset 2011 champion Sam Stosur in the first round.
She returned to the tour at an ITF event in Landsville, Pennsylvania in early August this year, winning two matches before withdrawing from her quarterfinal match.
She played in the US Open qualifying tournament where she lost in the second round.
I asked her about the biggest challenge in being back on the court.
“I think the mental aspect, just like the focus that it takes to do a long match,” she said. “In my second round (qualies) match, I was tired emotionally in the third set more than physically and I think that the hardest thing coming back is staying in the moment for hours at a time, so it’s going to take a few more months being in competition.”
“I think the serve and the return are the hardest coming back. Adjusting to the speed, the different speeds, the ball comes from a different direction. The serve is something that I’m constantly working on. I was impressed with the level I was able to play at. It was good.”
Losing in the first round of the mixed doubles with Christian Harrison on Thursday, I asked the effervescent teen about what she plans to do in New York now that she’s completely done at the US Open.
“I will probably stick around tomorrow and go home the next day. It’s New York so you have to live a little.”
“I went to the Guggenheim, because I love art, O my gosh! Art fanatic. I want to go to the Metropolitan.
“I saw that (Roger) Federer went. Jealous! I can go that day. I so just want a selfie with him!”
“That would be a highlight of my life, just one selfie,” the bubbly Duval squealed. “I tweeted that one time, but then I deleted it, because I said that’s too much fangirling.
“Like my family gets emotional when he loses. Like we are staunch Federer fans. It gets serious.”
She talked about Venus Williams as a very significant example in her life.
“For Venus to be doing what she’s doing at her age, with all of the health issues that she’s had to battle, she’s definitely a role model for me even though we have totally different illnesses. What she has been able to do and I’ve been able to look up to someone like that. And obviously she’s so nice and she talks to me whenever I need her to talk to me, so I feel super blessed to have someone like that.”
“Venus is everything I want to be,” the 19-year-old proclaimed. “She’s like so poised. Oh my god, I love her so much! Massive fangirl in the locker room. She walks in and I’m like ‘aaahh!’ I have to hide in the corner. She was doing her hair and I wanted to talk to her so badly, but she getting ready for her match – I’m like ‘what do I do?!!’
“I like freak out when I see her!”
Duval is among a group of young American women tennis players on tour. “Yea, for sure. We’re trying to be the next generation, we boost each other, we’re all friends so it helps.”
Does she or her peers feel pressure after Serena and Venus Williams are no longer on the scene?
“Not yet,” Said Duval. “Yah, we will, but not yet. Especially for me right now, I’m just too happy to be back, for other players I’m not sure, but for as young as we all are, I think we have no pressure.”
She was asked if she’s seeking a rise in the diversity of the sport of tennis.
“Yes, I definitely think so. I think we are seeing our group – me Taylor (Townsend), Sachia (Vickery), Alicia (Tornado Black) even.
“I think that the fact that we are all rising together we’re making more of an impact because we’re not at the lower level we’re kind of making a name for ourselves now, we’re being seen so I definitely think it’s a boost.”
For now, Duval is focusing on making the draw of the next major.
“My next tournament is going to be a 75K in New Mexico,” she said. “Then I’ll probably just stay in the states and do Challengers… Carlsbad and stuff like that and hopefully have my ranking up for Australia next year.”
Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama at the US Open.