From quake, gun horror to Grand Slam dream

From quake, gun horror to Grand Slam dream

NEW YORK- Agence France-Presse
From quake, gun horror to Grand Slam dream

Victoria Duval of the US celebrates after defeating Samantha Stosur of Australia during their US Open women’s singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. AFP photo

Victoria Duval is just 17 but has already experienced the heart-stopping terror of being held hostage by gunmen and almost losing her father in the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

So, on Aug. 27, defeating former champion Samantha Stosur in the U.S. Open first felt tame by comparison, the tension of squandering three match points understandably trivial in the great drama of her young life.

The world number 296 claimed a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win over the 11th-seeded Australian, her first victory at a Grand Slam, 12 months after her only other major appearance when she was defeated in New York by Kim Clijsters.But it was the back-story, relayed by Duval with the giggly pitch and enthusiasm of a girl much younger and who has yet to abandon her affection for SpongeBob SquarePants, which seduced the Flushing Meadows crowd on Aug. 27.

The Duval family decamped from the violence-racked Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to the US after Victoria, who had been born in Miami, had a pistol shoved in her face when she was seven and held hostage by a kidnap gang.

But her gynecologist father, Jean-Maurice, stayed behind to run his medical practice while mother Nadine, a former ballet dancer, built a new life in Atlanta with Victoria and her two brothers.

Under the rubble

Jean-Maurice was in the Haitian capital when the 2010 earthquake struck, killing around 250,000 people.

The family home collapsed on top of him, leaving him with a shattered vertebrae, broken legs, arms and ribs as well as a punctured lung as he was pinned beneath the rubble.

He was so convinced he was going to die that he scratched around in the darkness, grabbed his mobile phone and managed to call his wife to tell her he loved her and his children.

But against all the odds, he clawed his way to safety.

Jean-Maurice was eventually air-lifted to safety and eventual recovery in the U.S., a mission of mercy organized by family friends and well-wishers in Georgia. “If it wasn’t for them, my dad definitely wouldn’t be here today. Not everyone just pays $30,000 to fly a helicopter to save someone,” said Duval.

“They’re amazing people. I mean, they’re angels. We couldn’t have found better people. They wouldn’t let planes in because there was no runway. But this was the only plane they actually let in Haiti. My dad, they found him after 11 hours in the rubble. It was incredible. I don’t know how he managed.” 

Duval is reluctant to discuss the day she and her cousins were held at gunpoint in Haiti where kidnap gangs once ran riot. “We were held hostage. 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, which is great,” she said, preferring to concentrate on how she can now help her injured father.

Although he escaped the quake, he has needed a series of surgeries which have prevented him from resuming his medical career. Duval is already guaranteed $53,000 for making the second round, a windfall which, in the circumstances, is timely.

“He’s improving so much. Emotionally it was hard at first. But he’s as happy as he’s ever been. He had a couple surgeries that helped take the pain away. We’re just so happy that, you know, he’s in a good state of mind right now. He’s just here with us. So it’s incredible.” 

In Aug. 27’s match, Stosur, 12 years older than her opponent, was seemingly cruising to victory when she led by a set and 3-0 and 4-2 in the second set.

But the Australian had to save a match point in the ninth game of the decider.

Duval, roared on a by a packed Louis Armstrong court, squandered two more match points before taking victory at the fourth time of asking with a sweeping forehand.

“I’m not a sore loser, but I certainly helped her,” said Stosur.

Next up for Duval is Slovak veteran Daniela Hantuchova for a place in the last 32.