NEW YORK—Victoria Duval hopped out to the middle of the court for the coin toss before her match with Daniela Hantuchova on Thursday night. She had a skip in her step, and you could understand why. The 17-year-old Haitian-American was coming off a magical upset of former champion Sam Stosur two nights ago, and a packed Court 17 awaited her next miracle.
But she had forgotten something: Her glasses, her trademark rectangular frames; she had left them back in her bag, so she had to go back and get them. Even after she found them, though, Hantuchova made her wait at the net for an embarrassingly long time as she zipped up every zipper on her racquet bag. The message was clear: “I’ll be setting the pace here, kid.”
It was that kind of night from start to finish for Duval—she could never find a groove, or generate any momentum, or make any inroads against her veteran opponent. Duval’s laser-shot winners were followed by balls that caught the tape; service breaks were handed back right away; shots that had found the corners against Stosur now skidded wide. Duval’s first serve, which averaged in the vicinity of 90 M.P.H., didn't help matters.
Just as problematic for her, though, was Hantuchova. Where Stosur had helped Duval's cause with 10 double faults, Hantuchova wasn’t as generous. She was more consistent—making 18 errors to Duval’s 27—and made the most of the weak serves that came her way, breaking the American five times. Dani also had a plan: The hard-hitting Duval clearly likes pace, so she robbed her of it with drop shots and moonballs when she could. Duval was aggressive in her return games; she converted both of her break points, one with a brilliant cross-court backhand angle return. But each time she broke, she essentially broke herself back in the next game with more mistakes.
That’s how Duval plays, on the edge, and that’s not a bad thing in a 17-year-old. She leaps up on her backhand return, tries for the sharpest angles, and goes for winners without a second thought, in a way that, say, Sloane Stephens doesn’t. It can lead to a lightning strike on one ball—she hit 18 winners, eight more than Hantuchova—and a dud on the next. Oddly, Duval had trouble tonight with shorter balls; she almost overran them, and hit them too flat. But she can already take a seasoned pro’s pace and redirect it. She wasn’t overmatched from the ground in either of her matches here.
Duval, who is already 5’10”, says her doctor has told her she’ll grow to 6 feet. The one shot of hers that isn’t professional-grade is her serve; a couple more inches of height can’t hurt, but she needs a more dynamic motion. What she does have is time.
On match point, Hantuchova’s final shot appeared to catch the back of the line. As Duval’s next ball floated long, she tried to challenge. Chair umpire Jerry Armstrong shook his head: Nope, nothing doing. It was that kind of evening for Duval, who put her head down and walked off quickly after the handshake. There will be other nights.
IBM Stat of the Match: Hantuchova took better advantage of Duval's errors—27 in all—than Sam Stosur did in the first round.
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