Upsets of the Year: Duval d. Stosur; Darcis d. Nadal
With the 2013 tennis season in the past, it's time to dole out our annual awards. Look for the winners—for better or worse—throughout this week on TENNIS.com. (To see what's been unveiled thus far, click here.)
U.S. Open, First Round: No. 296 Victoria Duval d. No. 11 Samantha Stosur, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4
Bouncing on her toes in excitement, Victoria Duval looked like a teenager going places at the outset of this U.S. Open opening-round match. Down a set and 2-4, Duval took the packed crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium along on a thrill ride and was flying high at the finish of a stunning upset of the 2011 U.S. Open champion.
Wearing a purple dress designed by Venus Williams, optic yellow sweatbands that matched her yellow shoelaces, and an effervescent smile, Duval took her shot at the upset on the rise, repeatedly cracking her forehand cross-court with ambition.
"I definitely think that getting to the next level in tennis is being able to go after your shots," Duval said. "These girls hit really hard. I wouldn't have pulled it off today if I wasn't confident in my shots. I was willing to take that risk and it paid off."
The 17-year-old qualifier took advantage of 56 errors from Stosur, who played tight tennis trying to combat an exuberant opponent, an energetic American crowd, and her stiff-armed backhand. Stosur, who struggled to string points together in the critical stages of the decisive set, conceded she sabotaged her own cause.
"I feel like credit to her. I'm not going to be a sore loser and say she didn't do anything," Stosur said afterward. "But, you know, I think I certainly helped her out there today, that's for sure."
Stosur arrived in Flushing Meadows fresh off experiencing both triumph—she defeated world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka for the first time in nine meetings in the Carlsbad final to claim her first title since the 2011 Open—and turmoil: The 29-year-old Aussie severed ties with her long-time coach David Taylor nine days before the tournament began, and admitted the timing of the split was unsettling.
"I think we both were kind of feeling that we'd almost come to the end. Unfortunately, it happened to be last week," Stosur said before the Open began. "I don't think either of us would have wanted it to happen right then, and obviously with winning that tournament almost makes it seem a little bit strange."
Duval's electric evening in New York came after a year after her U.S. Open debut, when former champion Kim Clijsters crushed her, 6-3, 6-1, then asked for a photo with the teen afterward, believing in her bright future. The Haitian-born American endured some tough times to reach her breakthrough win: Her family was victimized by an armed robbery when she was seven, and her father survived the island's 2010 earthquake by digging himself out of the rubble.
Clawing back from the second-set hole, Duval hit a forehand winner on her fourth match point, then bounced high off the blue court in a joyful jump to celebrate her first win in a Grand Slam tournament.
"I don't even remember match point," Duval said. "I guess I was really happy. I mean, you could tell by all the jumping I did."
Duval attributed her upset to competing with both fire and fun.
"I'm very much of a child at heart. On the court, you have to be a warrior because that's just the sport we are in," Duval said. "My motto is: Have fun."
Adapting to Wimbledon's freshly trimmed lawns after spending two weeks sliding around on the salmon-colored clay of Roland Garros is regarded as the toughest transition in Grand Slam tennis.
Attempting to make that adjustment, Rafael Nadal suffered a shocking shark attack. Fifteen days after Nadal made history by capturing his eighth career French Open title, he suffered the first Grand Slam opening-round defeat of his career.
Veteran Steve Darcis, nicknamed "Shark" by friends, played dazzling all-court tennis in an astonishing upset of the two-time Wimbledon champion. The 135th-ranked Belgian was empowered by a simple approach that is a core element of Nadal's game: Fight for every point.
"Nobody was expecting me to win. So I had to play a good match, relax, and enjoy the game," Darcis said. "That's what I did. But I really wanted to do something today. You know, if you go on the court, if you try to have fun, it's not the good point. So I really try to fight. I knew I could have a chance if I play a good match. That's what happened today."
The result is even more stupefying when you consider that Nadal had reached the final in all nine of his tournament starts of 2013, was eager to erase memories of his 2012 second-round upset loss to Lukas Rosol at SW19, and had lost just one game to Darcis in their lone prior meeting.
The mere notion that the 5'10" Darcis, a man who entered the match with a meager 7-18 Grand Slam record—including 12 first-round losses—could challenge the former No. 1 seemed as likely as the Fred Perry statue launching into cartwheels across the grounds of the All England Club.
None of that mattered much to Darcis, who fired 53 winners, including 13 aces, using his one-handed backhand brilliantly by alternating slice backhands that forced Nadal to dig low replies off the lawn with flatter blasts up the line.
"I tried my best out there in every moment. Was not possible for me this afternoon, and that's all," Nadal said afterward. "The opponent played well. I had my chances. I didn't make it. So in grass is difficult to adapt yourself, to adapt your game. When you don't have the chance to play before, I didn't have that chance this year, is tougher. I didn't find my rhythm."
Prior this match, Darcis had won just one match at Wimbledon, but the man who grew up looking up to Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras did not shrink from the moment. Darcis continued to take big cuts and connected when it mattered most.
"Maybe he didn't play his best match. But I have to be proud of me, I think," Darcis said. "I played a great match and I fight from the beginning till the end, and I played unbelievable tennis."
While it would be overstating the case to suggest Nadal had a premonition about the shocker to come, when you review his pre-match comments, it's clear he knew the danger Darcis posed.
"He's a good, talented player. He knows how to play tennis in all the surfaces," Nadal said of Darcis before the tournament began. "He has good shots. I say he is a complete player. I have to play well. I have to play very competitive from the beginning. Here on grass, all the matches are close. Matches can be decided for a few balls. So if you are not hundred percent focused and you're not at your hundred percent of energy and playing well, you are in big trouble."