Each season, Mylan World TeamTennis boasts a diverse mix of marquee names, established veterans and young up-and-comers. The challenge comes with blending the different backgrounds and experience levels to form a cohesive and winning team.
Playing her first season of Mylan WTT this summer with the Philadelphia Freedoms, young American Victoria Duval was unfazed by that notion.
“I don’t feel like I’m a rookie, I feel like I totally belong in this environment. [My teammates] have been helping me so much, I’m learning an incredible amount…from Liezel [Huber], from Billie [Jean King] especially,” said Duval ahead of the Freedoms’ win over the Orange County Breakers Friday night.
Born in Miami, Duval hails from Haiti, spending much of her childhood there. She picked up the game from her elder brothers, who in turn were encouraged to play by their father. As a junior, Duval had a tremendous amount of success, most recently reaching the semifinals of last year’s US Open girl’s event.
As the 2012 Under-18s USTA National Champion, she earned a wild card into the main draw of the women’s tournament, where she made her senior Grand Slam debut under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium, falling to Kim Clijsters in the Belgian’s last win of her professional career.
For all of accomplishments, playing Mylan WTT was still a goal for Duval.
“I remember seeing Venus and Serena play [Mylan WTT]…I thought it was such a cool concept.”
The bubbly teenager got her chance early in the 2013 season when the Freedoms were hit with a high-profile withdrawal from another American star, Sloane Stephens.
“Kathy Rinaldi [USTA National Coach] told me that I was invited to come here…it’s been an awesome experience so far.”
The Freedoms had been struggling in their first few matches, but Duval helped turn things around. That weekend, Mylan WTT co-founder and Philadelphia Freedoms owner Billie Jean King spent several days with her signature team and was impressed with Duval’s progress.
“We got lucky…Vicky has really improved. She’s getting more racquet speed on her shots…in two and a half, three days, I would say she’s 100% better. We’re giving her great practice and she gets it. She’s very smart, she grasps things very quickly and she’s producing already,” King remarked.
Against the Breakers, Duval certainly “got it", winning both sets played and pulling off an emphatic 5-2 win over Italy’s Maria Elena Camerin. Improving as the set wore on, Duval was painting the lines off both sides, her backhand down the line proving particularly lethal.
Duval, who enjoys painting abstract art in her spare time, was effusive in her praise of King.
“Every day, I’m getting better. Billie’s helping me with my technique. I think she’s an incredible human being, not only for how much knowledge she has, but just for everything she’s done: not only for women, but for tennis…just to have someone who knows so much, the information is that much clearer!”
Though Duval’s debut season with Mylan WTT was unfortunately cut short due to an adductor injury, the American pointed to her experience with the Philadelphia Freedoms as the highlight among a year of firsts.
“I’ve had a lot of great matches, but coming [to Mylan WTT] and getting this experience, not every day do you get Billie Jean King on your court! It’s been awesome to build confidence, and it’s a learning platform,” says Duval, who hopes to defend her National title and play at the US Open again later this summer.
Nick Bollettieri, Duval’s coach, sees his young charge as another Venus Williams. Duval was humbled by the comparison, and has high aspirations as she completes the transition from the juniors onto the WTA Tour.
“That’s an honor…I do keep in touch with [Venus] sometimes, I feel like she’s a mentor to me right now. I do see myself doing big things at big tournaments. That’s what I’ve been striving for. Just keep working hard, and we’ll see what happens!”