Monday, August 27, 2012

US 1.5 - Hello, My Name is Victoria

Night 1 was supposed to be memorable because of Kim Clijsters, who was playing the first match of the final tournament of her career. As it turned out, though, especially for those of us who were watching from home, it'll likely be remembered for providing our first up-close look (w/ sound) at Victoria Duval.

The 16-year old with the sweet voice of a cartoon character (or, as ESPN2's Chris Fowler pointed out, maybe "Steve Urkel," especially when she's wearing her everyday glasses) played well enough on Monday to not be embarrassed in her WTA debut on Ashe Stadium court against her idol. That, in and of itself, counts as a victory.

"Did I do that?"

Yes, in fact, Duval did. But she was more impressive than just that.

With a polite maturity that belies her child-like appearance and sound (off-court, she looks and sounds as if she might not even have yet reached her teenage years), Duval held her own against Clijsters for most of their 1st Round contest. With her adversity-filled background -- which includes her father being caught in an earthquake in Haiti and injured after having the family home collapse on top of him -- I suppose that she really shouldn't have been expected to be so in awe of a moment that she'd freeze-up and fail to give her best. It was talked about during ESPN2's by the likes of Mary Joe Fernandez and Nick Bollettieri (naturally, Duval has spent some time at his academy -- but, really, who hasn't these days, when you think about it?) about how the teen's tough times have steeled her and helped her to avoid folding under the pressure of the potentially-overwhelming big-time circumstances (for an honest-to-goodness tour newbie, or even a usually-out-of-the-spotlight vet) that she faced today. It was easy to think the opposite might occur.

Many times over the past few years (e.g. Coco Vandeweghe & Chelsey Gullickson), young Bannerettes have been fed to the U.S. Open night session monster and given their first true grand slam exposure under the lights against a top player. It's rarely ended without an ugly scoreline that made you feel for the youngster. It's the double-edged sword of drawing a big name in the 1st Round -- the player gets to experience something new, but then has to learn how to put their on-court destruction behind them in order to not lose any confidence that they'll ever be able to compete against the best players in the world.

In a match that the ESPN2 commentators, probably correctly, surmised might be one in which she was arguably the biggest underdog EVER, Duval was never in a position to think she might win. But she competed. Well, in fact. After a slow start that saw her fall behind 2-0, she began to move with purpose around the court. She didn't try to overplay, and stuck with her grinding, defensive (at least at this point in her development) game, and even had the presence of mind to effectively make use of lob shots throughout the match. She broke Clijsters at love in game #4 to get back on serve, and then held to take a 3-2 lead.

Clijsters soon found her footing (after the match, she admitted to being a bit nervous herself before the start of things) and took the match 6-3/6-1, but it was never an occasion in which you wished to avert your eyes, knowing that the video would be too soul-crushing for the young player to review after the match. Duval enjoyed the moment, and played well within it. Afterward, the winner of the USTA's national hard court 18s championship, Duval was all smiles yet again during her on-set interview on ESPN2. When told she'd been trending on Twitter earlier in the evening and that her Twitter followers will have surely grown by morning, she noted that she didn't have a Twitter account (isn't that against the law for tennis players these days?), but that she was sure her friends that do will be happy for her. With every compliment, she offered up a grinning "thank you," and you believed she actually meant it, rather than having been pre-programmed to offer up the "correct" response in such a setting. Oh, I do hope her game continues to improve and we get to see more and more of her.

So, Clijsters won. It's her 22nd straight win at the Open, and her fans will get to see her take the court in singles at least one more time. But Duval "won," too. And all her new fans will hopefully get to see her MANY more times. If so, they might remember this night as the first.

It was a good way to begin the only-at-the-Open experience that is nighttime tennis in New York City, the single most exciting time on every season's grand slam calendar.

...not unexpectedly, Roger Federer made fairly quick work of Donald Young to conclude the night session on Ashe. He's now 22-0 in his career under the lights, while Young -- who reached the Round of 16 at the Open last year -- has won just three total matches this season, and is now 1-19 in his last twenty.

...thanks to the two-hour rain delay around noon, the day session spilled into the nighttime. But isn't that always the case at the Open, even when it doesn't rain? Some of the highlights:

Petra Kvitova once again gave an opponent a spark of hope, then squished it dead. Maybe she should meet Carl, if Carla wouldn't get jealous. She was pushed to an opening set tie-break by Polona Hercog, and Hercog was actually up a mini-break at 4-3. But Kvitova closed it down and took at 6-4 lead. Of course, she couldn't make things so easy on herself. Hercog got back to 6-6, but Kvitova won the breaker 8-6, then took the match 7-6/6-1.

In other title contender news: Maria Sharapova defeated Melinda Czink 6-2/6-2. Victoria Azarenka, wearing a very loud (get it? get it?) yellow top, made quick work of Alexandra Panova, 6-0/6-1. And Li Na took out Heather Watson, 6-2/6-3.


the so-sweet-you-almost-feel-like-you-should-check-your-blood-sugar-level-after-the-watched-it introductory video piece for Duval. I wonder if any player has ever gained so many fans in a short period of time as Duval did in those sixty seconds or so.

-- seeing the first ads for the season premiere of Discovery Channel's "American Chopper" during ESPN2's Open coverage tonight. So sue me -- I've always enjoyed the show, though the initial aspect of actually watching choppers being build piece by piece, which first attracted me years and years ago, has now been largely replaced by family "drama." It's still one of my favorite guilty pleasures.

...tomorrow night: here comes Serena.

All for Night 1. More tomorrow.


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