Wimbledon: Sweet Vicky, Mashing Masha, and Federer Knows Best


By Bill Simons

VICKY DUVAL—LITTLE GIRL, BIG FUTURE: While most all of Britain gathered around TVs in pubs from Manchester to Portsmouth; while much of Wimbledon gathered in Centre Court to watch Serena Williams demolish another overmatched foe; and while American Taylor Townsend went down quickly in a tearful match on Court 17, a cadre of six American writers and one Brit crowded into a tiny interview room the size of a Texas closet to chat with “yesterday”‘s hero, eighteen-year old Vicky Duval, the US Open darling who shocked Sam Stosur last summer.

The small room was packed. “You’re popular,” said one writer.

“I know,” replied Duval, but it sounded more cute than vain.

Duval has a high-pitched voice and a high-level game.

Some feared that her win in New York would prove to be a one-hit wonder. But Duval has hit the practice court, grown to be 5′ 10″, and now seems to be thriving. Never mind that she is now “just” coached by her mom.

Of course, many recall the tale of her father who, though he remains paralyzed, survived a killer hurricane in Haiti. More to the point, Vicky recently survived the killer competition of Roehampton qualifying. There, she says, “You just don’t know where the ball is going.”

Now, after scoring yet another first-round Grand Slam upset over a seeded player, it’s clear where the No. 115 player in the world is trending: upward. Her win over Romania’ s Sorana Cirstea out on court 16 was yet another rung on an intriguing ladder which might reach stardom.

But not so fast, Mr. Hype Machine. Duval—who reached the junior quarterfinals three years ago—is quick to note, “I’m still a bit young … There are still a lot of things I have to work on in my game. I’m improving mentally, physically getting stronger.

I’m still growing. So [when] all those things come together, maybe I can do some damage.”

In the meantime, she’s living the dream. At ease, eyes open, she adeptly explains her recent split from coach Allan Devos, saying, “It just wasn’t meant to be. That’s how relationships go.”

So young, so wise, and quite free. Vicky’s in London with just her mother—who she says doesn’t know anything about tennis—and a family friend. She gleefully tells hardened reporters that the coolest thing about England is the strawberries and cream, because the strawberries here “are so different than the ones in America. They’re so juicy and sweet.”

Just like the juicy and sweet tale of a 5′ 10″ Haitian-American with a little voice and big heart: Vicky Duval, who faces Wimbledon junior champ Belinda Bencic in the next round, en route to a career that might just sizzle.







YOU KNOW YOU’RE IN BRITAIN WHEN… Deep into a one-sided match, the announcer proclaims, “It’s going to be done and dusted pretty quickly” … The radio broadcast of the day’s matches includes a long segment on the jolly scene at the Wimbledon champagne bar, where two women are trying to kickstart a campaign to get Patrick Rafter to return to the tour because “he looks good in a pair of shorts.”

MASHING MASHA, SHAMING SHARAPOVA, AND OTHER MISADVENTURES IN GOTCHA JOURNALISM: Dan Jones isn’t exactly a fan of Maria Sharapova‘s Sugarpova initiative. The Evening Standard reporter wrote, “‘Everyone loves candy.’ Or so says Maria Sharapova: SW 19’s Willy Wonkette, screecher extraorinaire and sugar-peddling hypocri…sorry, elite sportswoman. Sharapova has opened a pop-up sweet shop in the Wimbledon village, where punters can rot their teeth and expand their waistlines with sweets called things like Sassy, Spooky Sour and Yes, I Am A shameful Corporate Huckbag With About As Much Ethical Integrity As A Bag Of Salt. We’ve gone on about this before but really, Maria, have a bit of shame.”

WAIT A MINUTE, DON’T MESS WITH MASHA: Maria Sharapova cruised through her first-round match, but her dogged march to the French Open title—defined by three-set battles—reconfirmed that she’s one of the game’s toughest fighters. So IT asked her why she loves a good fight:

Many have spoken about this incredible love of competition that you have that seems so natural to you. Does competition take you to a new level as a person? Is it something that you learn from? Why do you love it so much?

I’m not sure. I’ve loved it from a very young age, whether it’s just being first in line, eating something faster than a friend, [or] I don’t know, demonstrating a drill when there were people on the court. I always wanted to be the first one.

There’s different ways of expressing that competitiveness for me. When you’re deep in the third set, that feeling, that’s what I worked so hard for, to get out of that situation on a good note.

Maybe other people really don’t want to put themselves in that situation. Actually, when I get there, I don’t think, “Well, I must have lost the set and I did something wrong.” I think, “I got myself in this position and I have to fight my way through it to win the match.”

I’ve always thought that maybe my mentality is a little bit different. Going into a third set, I really relish on that opportunity.

When you turn your back to the court and think for just a moment, is that a pep talk to yourself? What is your internal dialogue at that point?

It depends the stage of the match. Just to give yourself a few seconds of that time within yourself really. Everything is so fast-paced out there. It can change very quickly, the dynamic of the game. I like to give myself that moment to think clearly whether I’m doing well, to keep that focus, or [if] I have a little bit of a letdown and I need to regain what I was doing well, what I can improve.

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: Andy Murray‘s mother Judy says British tennis might make better decisions if the vastly wealthy Lawn Tennis Association didn’t have so much money.

QUOTEBOOK: “I think for women in general, and for feminism, it’s great.”—Andrea Petkovic, on Murray hiring Amelie Mauresmo.

“He’s forgotten how to close out matches.”—BBC Radio on Roger Federer, after he squandered his fourth match point against Paolo Lorenzi.

“You feel you deserve it, always.”—Federer, on whether he felt sympathy for his first-round opponent.

WHICH BRINGS TO MIND… When Ernests Gulbis was asked whether he would want to get rid of umpires in tennis, he responded, “Get rid of vampires?” Gulbis’ quip somehow conjures thoughts of Romanian Ion Tiriac, tennis’ most vampire-like character … NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal was in the Royal Box Monday, which brings to mind that the greatest tennis fans in the history of the NBA were Rick Barry, who carried tennis rackets in the trunk of his car; and Wilt Chamberlain, who was a regular at the US Open and a Gabriela Sabatini groupie … Venus Williams recently posed in the buff for ESPN The Magazine, which reminds us that Serena has already done the same thing. Indeed, Venus confided, “I think I did it because Serena did it. She was a big influence on me.”

HOW MUCH PRESSURE IS THERE ON ANDY MURRAY? Well, according to one observer, “After the trauma of England’s exit from the World Cup … the state of the nation’s sporting morale lies squarely with Andy Murray.”

UPHOLDING PROPER STANDARDS: After Wimbledon told Pat Cash he couldn’t wear his iconic black and white checkerboard headband, the Daily Express wrote, “It is heartening to see this august British institution upholding proper standards.”

YOU NEVER CAN BE TOO CAREFUL: Asked if she was getting a lot of congratulations from fellow players for winning her first tournament at Eastbourne, Madison Keys says, “Yes. I mean, I think … Unless they’re really good liars.”

TAYLOR IN TRAINING: After her main draw Wimbledon debut ended in the first round, IT followed up with Taylor Townsend about her approach to fitness. “I have a great team and staff on my side that have pushed and helped me and helped me understand and realize that my body is a total gift,” she said. “I realize that I’m very strong and I can do a lot of things athletically that probably many people can’t do. I train with 250-pound football players and we do the same stuff … At the same time, it’s up to me. I want to work harder and I want to do more.”

THE OLD COLLEGE TRY: Four of the top seven American men have college experience.

FEDERER KNOWS BEST: Now that Roger Federer has two sets of twins, when he scores a routine early-round win, he’s asked about family life almost as often as the state of his game. “Well, now it’s very much educational with the girls,” he said, when asked about the joys of fatherhood. “They’re getting into that age where you got to give them boundaries but nevertheless play with them, be active with them. They sleep better at night. [With the boys], it’s very much still Mirka-based. I mean, she’s totally in charge there.  I’m just trying to be helpful.”

So is Roger Federer a strict dad? “You have to be firm sometimes,” he says. “That’s not the most fun. But what are you going to do?”