By Julian Linden
A teenage American girl with a squeaky voice and an incredible tale of survival stole the spotlight at the U.S. Open on Tuesday with a stunning upset win over the former champion, Sam Stosur.
While Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic and the rest of the sport’s old order calmly went about their business, 17-year-old Victoria Duval became the toast of New York.
Making her second appearance in a grand slam event against the Australian who beat Serena Williams in the final just two years ago, the pint-sized Duval clawed and fought her way to a 5-7 6-4 6-4 first-round win.
It was a remarkable performance but made all the more astonishing because of her background.
When she was seven years old, Duval was taken hostage by robbers at her aunt’s house in Haiti, a terrifying incident that convinced her parents, both doctors, to move back to the United States.
“It’s not a good memory, so I try to forget as much as I could about it. I don’t remember too much of it anymore, which is great,” she told reporters.
In 2010, her father was buried alive in the Haiti earthquake. He survived by digging himself out but suffered serious injuries, including broken legs, broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Duval took to tennis instantly and has quickly risen through the American junior ranks but Tuesday’s win was by far her biggest.
With her family watching from courtside and chants of “U-S-A!” echoing around the Louis Armstrong Stadium, Duval had to battle all the way to beat the vastly more-experienced Stosur.
“I think I’m very much of a child at heart … (but) on the court, you have to be a warrior because that’s just the sport we are in,” she said.
Stosur paid tribute to Duval, saying she deserved the win, but said she had contributed to her own downfall with a whopping 56 unforced errors.
“I’m not going to be a sore loser and say she didn’t do anything,” said Stosur. “But, you know, I think I certainly helped her out there today, that’s for sure.”
Federer and Djokovic blasted their way into the second round with ruthless efficiency, crushing their hapless opponents in straight sets.
Defying the sceptics who had dismissed his chances of winning a sixth title in the Big Apple, Federer was in vintage form as he brushed past Slovenia’s Grega Zemlja 6-3 6-2 7-5 in a delayed afternoon match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Djokovic then lit up Tuesday’s night session with a dazzling combination of power and precision to defeat Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis 6-1 6-2 6-2.
The world number one hardly broke sweat on a balmy New York night as he took the first step toward a possible fourth straight appearance in the final.
The 32-year-old Federer won the last of his five U.S. Open titles in 2008 but the Swiss master said he had lost none of his love of the game, ripping 35 winners in his win over Zemlja.
“I’m in a good spot right now. I want to enjoy it as long as it lasts,” Federer said.
Twelve months after her agonising defeat in the women’s final, Victoria Azarenka made a triumphant return to Arthur Ashe Stadium, chalking up a rare double-bagel win by thrashing Germany’s Dinah Pfizenmaier 6-0 6-0 in just over an hour.
Italy’s Sara Errani showed why she is looming as a real contender as she also handed out a 6-0 6-0 thrashing to her Australian opponent Olivia Rogowska, who got into the draw as a ‘lucky loser’ when Japan’s Ayumi Morita withdrew.
Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki survived a tough examination to join grand slam winners Petra Kvitova and Ana Ivanovic in the second round.
Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, also had to put in some overtime before winning her clash with Misaki Doi 6-2 3-6 6-1 while a grieving Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open winner, cruised to a 6-2 6-0 win over Georgia’s Anna Tatishvili.
Ivanovic arrived in New York with a heavy heart after learning about the drowning death of a childhood friend back in her native Serbia.
“It’s been very sad news,” Ivanovic told reporters. “It was very hard because it was almost like my relative. We grew up, and I knew him since we were kids. It’s very, very sad.”
‘DAY OF SURVIVAL’
With her boyfriend, golfer Rory McIlroy, watching from the stands, Wozniacki had to dig deep to beat Chinese qualifier Duan Yingying 6-2 7-5.
Wozniacki raced through the opening set in just 35 minutes then reeled off five games in a row to seal the win after falling behind 5-2.
“It’s not about being pretty,” Wozniacki said. “It’s about just getting the job done. I did that, so I’m happy about that.”
Wimbledon semi-finalist Jerzy Janowicz was booed for serving underhand in his 6-4 6-4 6-2 loss to Argentina’s Maximo Gonzalez, who is ranked 247th in the world.
Hampered by a painful back injury he suffered training three days ago, the Polish world number 14 was in a foul mood, arguing with the chair umpire and throwing his water bottle on the court.
“I was in really good shape before this happened,” he growled. “That’s why I’m fricking disappointed.”