Hard work, sacrifices paying off for [young Haitian tennis player] Victoria Duval


This piece by Erin Bruehl was posted on the US Open website. Last night Both Duval and Vickery lost their second-round matches. Duval lost to Daniela Hantichova (6-2, 6-3) and Vickery to JULIA Glushko (7-5, 6-3).

A 5-1/2-year-old Sachia Vickery asked her mother to buy her a tennis racquet in the dollar store one day, declaring herself to be the next Serena Williams. A 7-year-old Victoria Duval, then living in Haiti and a ballerina, followed her brothers to a tennis tournament in Santo Domingo and was invited  to play, even though she had no idea how the scoring went or where and when to stand on the court.

They weren’t perhaps the two most common introductions to tennis, but they have led both Vickery, 18, and Duval, 17, to much success as junior players – including titles at the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championships – as well as wins on the Challenger circuit, and now, on the sport’s grandest stage.

On Day 2 of the 2013 US Open, both Vickery and Duval won their first career Grand Slam main draw singles matches. Duval had lost in the quarterfinals of the Girls’ 18s a few weeks ago and earned her main draw spot as a qualifier. A few days later, she pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament to date and the biggest win of her career, taking out 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur in three sets in just her second Grand Slam match. (She qualified for last year’s US Open as the 2012 Girls’ 18s winner.)

With her recent singles win at Nationals (she also won doubles with Allie Kiick), Vickery earned a wild card into this year’s US Open, her first singles main draw at a major, and turned it into her first Slam win with a victory over former Wimbledon semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in straight sets.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King has been an inspiration to Duval, who also played World TeamTennis this summer, which she thought helped her gain some experience against top professional players. She won many fans in New York with her girlish charm, her jumps and squeals around the court after her win. For Duval, it all harkens back to that day she first played tennis in Santo Domingo and how ballet was history thereafter.

“I would just run around and hit the ball. I could never hit the strings,” she said of her early introduction to tennis. “The tournament director said, ‘Why don’t you have her play in the tournament?’ I had no idea how to keep score, nothing. It was a 10-and-under tournament, I think and I won it. After that, my mom was, OK, you have to choose now. Tennis seemed to be appropriate.”

She has trained at Nick Bollettieri’s Academy in the past and with the USTA for many years, but currently works with her brothers as coaches. From her loss at Nationals to upsetting a former major champion, Duval has been working on hitting her shots with confidence and is always working to improve her serve. She thought it showed Tuesday.

“I definitely think that getting to the next level in tennis is being able to go after your shots,” she said. “These girls hit really hard. I wouldn’t have pulled it off if I wasn’t confident in my shots.”

It has not been an easy road here for Duval, as her family dealt with crisis the past few years, one that is not completely over yet. She had been held hostage as a child with a few cousins as a 7-year-old in Haiti, which she has mostly blocked from her memory, and a few years ago her father, Jean-Maurice, a doctor, was working in Haiti when the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit. It killed more than 100,000 people, among its destruction. Jean-Maurice was injured and trapped and nothing short of a miraculous gesture rescued him. 

The rest of the Duval family was living in Atlanta, and after the earthquake there were no runways for planes to land. That is, until Harry Kitchen and his wife, who knew Duval from the club where she trained at in Atlanta, paid for a helicopter to rescue Jean-Maurice. He is not able to work from his injuries, making things hard financially for the family, but he is getting better all the time.

“We’re forever grateful to them. If it wasn’t for them, my dad definitely wouldn’t be here today,” Duval said of the Kitchens. “Not everyone just pays $30,000 to fly a helicopter to save someone. They’re amazing people. I mean, they’re angels. My dad, they found him after 11 hours. It was incredible.

“He’s improving so much,” she added of her father. “Emotionally it was hard at first. But he’s as happy as he’s ever been. He had a couple surgeries that helped take the pain away. We’re just so happy that he’s in a good state of mind right now. He’s just here with us.”

Duval has been playing mostly on the Challenger circuit in 2013, and she entered the US Open ranked No. 296 in the world. That will improve following her first-round win, though her ambitions are far greater than the one victory, no matter how it resonated.

”That’s what I’m working for,” she said when asked if she was going to be a star. “If God will let it, then let’s go.”

For Vickery, her mother, Paula Liverpool, knew from the time her daughter was an infant that she was destined to be an athlete. Despite her being born premature at just three pounds, she could see the beginnings of muscle tone in her tiny baby. After she bought Sachia the racquet, the rest is history. Liverpool had to do some research to find places for her to play near their home in Florida as no one in their family played tennis. Sachia took to the game immediately and more and more people began to recognize her talent, despite her small stature at 5-foot-3. 

To this day, Vickery and her mom talk all the time now about how Vickery really did become a pro tennis player, and how it all started with a racquet costing $1. Now she’s winning matches among the best in the world.

“She was like ‘Wow, who would have known that dollar racquet I got you, you would be playing at the US Open now,’” Vickery said of her mom. “It was a good experience the way I started out. It was pretty cool that was how I started and this is where I am now.

To support her family, Liverpool worked two jobs, as an online advisor at Kaplan during that day and bartending at night for a few years, sacrificing sleep to support Vickery’s tennis and her older brother, Dominique, who curently plays football at South Carolina State. She still works at Kaplan, which gives her the flexibility to travel frequently with Vickery.

“I never wanted to do anything else but play tennis, especially when I was younger,” Vickery said. “All I thought about was playing tennis, every second of every day.”

Now ranked No. 238, Vickery, like Duval, has been transitioning her junior success to the pro ranks, having played mostly Circuit events in 2013 and reached her career-high ranking of No. 227 in August, a ranking that will likely rise int othe Top 200 following her success in Flushing Meadows.

“It was unbelievable,” she said of her win over Lucic-Baroni. “I went into the match with no expectations and just thought I would give it my best and see how it goes. Midway through the match, I said ‘Wow, I have a chance to win’ and I was fighting every point and I’m just happy I got through my first one.”

Vickery started training full-time at the USTA Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., in January this year, working with coaches Kathy Rinaldi, Jamea Jackson and Troy Hahn, and she has been extremely pleased with the results and how she has improved. 

With a solid game from the baseline, she is working on improving her serve and staying focused and tough mentally, something she credits Rinaldi for helping, and enjoys training alongside so many other young Americans such as Madison Keys, Jamie Hampton, Taylor Townsend, Shelby Rogers and Grace Min. Vickery sees the success Keys, also 18, and Hampton are having this year as Top 40 players and knows what it takes for her to reach that level.

“I’ve had a great time there,” Vickery said of training in Boca. “It’s good because we get to hit with each other and we all push each other to do better. It’s pretty cool having them to train with and practice with every day.

“It helps seeing each other have success, because I think pretty much all of us there are on similar levels,” she added. “Jamie and Madison are doing very well and it gives me a lot of hope that since they are there, maybe I can get there too.”

For the original report go to http://www.usopen.org/en_US/news/articles/2013-08-28/201308281377734094976.html?promo=media_wall

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