Bubbly U.S. teen enjoys night with Clijsters at Open
Kim Clijsters, of Belgium, returns to Victoria Duval in the first round of play at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Published Tuesday, August 28, 2012 8:29AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 28, 2012 8:30AM EDT
NEW YORK -- After what could have been the last match of Kim Clijsters' career -- and, instead, might one day be remembered as the first significant match of Victoria Duval's -- the two players posed in the locker room for a photo.
No, it wasn't the 16-year-old Duval who requested the picture.
It was the 29-year-old Clijsters who wanted a snapshot.
"I thought that was so nice, because I was the one that should be begging her for a picture," Duval said, giggling all the while. "She's definitely my idol."
There are, it's fair to say, plenty of other up-and-coming tennis players who feel that way about Clijsters, who extended her U.S. Open winning streak to 22 matches by beating wild-card recipient Duval 6-3, 6-1 on Monday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Clijsters has left Flushing Meadows as the champion each of the last three times she entered the field - in 2005, 2009 and 2010. She missed the hard-court Grand Slam tournament in 2011 because of an injured stomach muscle. That's only one in a long line of ailments that have dogged Clijsters throughout her playing days, which she says will come to an end after the U.S. Open, no matter how well she fares.
"It was a special occasion. ... I was nervous, maybe almost as much as she was," Clijsters said of facing Duval, who is ranked 562nd and was making her tour-level main-draw debut after winning the under-18 U.S. national championship.
"I'm happy that I'm still here," Clijsters added, "and still winning some matches."
It's not clear how much longer some other members of her generation will keep playing and winning - players such as seven-time major champion Venus Williams, who is 32, and 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick, who turns 30 this week. Both were scheduled to be in first-round action on Tuesday, along with Williams' younger sister, 14-time major champion Serena, and defending champion Novak Djokovic.
They'll be hoping to move into the second round as easily as 2006 champion Maria Sharapova did Monday, a nice change from the last time she was on a tennis court with something at stake.
Playing for the first time since taking only one game from Serena Williams in a lopsided London Olympics gold-medal match, Sharapova needed barely more than an hour to deal with the whipping winds and, to a lesser extent, 88th-ranked Melinda Czink of Hungary.
After her 6-2, 6-2 win, Sharapova went into a bit of a tongue-in-cheek discussion of the stomach virus that plagued her at the Summer Games and then forced her out of two hard-court tuneup tournaments this month.
She went to the doctor for a series of tests, including an ultrasound to see if she was pregnant. The test turned up negative.
"Just because of the pain I was having, it was really weird," said Sharapova, who is engaged to former NBA player Sasha Vujacic. "They told me I was fine, not pregnant. Then, I'm like, `Can I get my money back?'"
As for what could have been a real depressing defeat in the Olympic final, Sharapova said she's over it.
"Doesn't stick with you," the third-seeded Russian said.
A mostly low-intrigue Day 1 was about as bad as could be for the German contingent: The only top-20 seeded women who lost were No. 16 Sabine Lisicki and No. 18 Julia Goerges, while the only seeded man to exit was No. 22 Florian Mayer. He stopped because he felt dizzy and had blurred vision while trailing 19-year-old Jack Sock of the United States 6-3, 6-2, 3-2.
"Overall, my physicality is better this year," said Sock, who teamed with Melanie Oudin to win the mixed doubles championship at the 2011 U.S. Open and has been working with Andre Agassi's former trainer, Gil Reyes.
Both No. 1-seeded players won without any trouble, with 17-time major champion Roger Federer improving to 22-0 in U.S. Open night matches by overwhelming Donald Young of the U.S. 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, and Victoria Azarenka quietly getting past Alexandra Panova of Russia 6-0, 6-1.
Before Federer held court on Ashe, it was Clijsters' turn.
"I was freaking out," the bubbly, squeaky-voiced Duval acknowledged.
Duval, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., explained that being cheered by thousands of fans while walking out to face Clijsters was an "indescribable feeling."
"It was much more than I expected. The whole atmosphere was just incredible," she said. "I was really nervous. But I thought I did a good job of not showing it."
Young as she is, Duval has dealt with some trying life experiences already. She was born in Florida, but grew up in Haiti, where her parents were from, and as a kid, Duval and some cousins were taken hostage by robbers. Then, in January 2010, when a massive earthquake struck Haiti, her father was buried in rubble, his legs broken, but survived.
"It helped my tennis in the sense that in those circumstances, we were just saying: No matter how tough things get, you're always going to get out of it.' So in my tennis, that's basically what I've been living by," Duval said. "No matter how down and out I am, I can get out of it."
After dropping the first two games Monday, Duval took advantage of a series of forehand errors by Clijsters to take the next three for a 3-2 lead after 13 minutes.
"Walking to the chair, I was like, `I am actually up 3-2 right now!'" Duval said, her eyes closed as she replayed the moment in her mind.
"She definitely picked up her level a lot," Duval said. "She played like Kim Clijsters from that point on."
Yes, the 23rd-seeded Clijsters would go on to win 10 of the last 11 games, wrapping up the match in 51 minutes while compiling a 23-1 advantage in winners.
"If you hit one weak shot," Duval said, "it's pretty much, `Bye-bye!'"