Nadine Duval still laughs when she thinks about the first time her daughter, Victoria, played in a competitive tennis tournament.
Nadine Duval would take her two sons from their home in Haiti to the Dominican Republic to play in an all-ages tournament. Victoria Duval would sit with her mom and watch. One year, a tournament official asked if Victoria Duval, who was only 7, would like to play in the girls 10-and-under tournament.
Victoria Duval had never played "real tennis" before, just goofing off with her brothers. Nadine Duval said it was OK, and she sat back and watched her little girl win the entire tournament.
"She had just turned 7, her birthday is in November and the tournament was in December," Nadine Duval said. "And she got the feel of what to do immediately. The entire time I was laughing so hard. Some thought I was being mean but I was just laughing because I couldn't believe what I was seeing. She was just a tiny little thing who had never picked up a racket before, and she won it all."
Because of the political climate in Haiti and the opportunities to advance the tennis careers of the children, the family moved to Florida a year later. Victoria Duval has been playing with the older kids ever since.
At only 12, Victoria Duval won the USTA National Opens 14s on Wednesday, beating No. 3 seed Kirsten Lewis 7-6 (7-1), 6-1. The previous day, Victoria Duval beat No. 1 seed Tristen Dewar 7-6, 6-3.
"I was always confident throughout the match," Victoria Duval said. "It was tough (Tuesday) beating the No. 1 seed because she hits the ball so hard. But when I beat her, my confidence level went up."
According to Nadine Duval, this win comes at the perfect time. In February, the family moved to Bradenton, Fla., when Victoria Duval received a scholarship to attend the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, which is part of the IMG Academy. Bollettieri, whom Victoria Duval called almost immediately after Wednesday's match, has coached tennis legends Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles.
In the girls 12-and-under, Victoria Duval is ranked first in Florida and second in the nation. In the 14s, she is ranked 12th in Florida and 65th in the nation.
In the first set, Victoria Duval had a hard time staying consistent. She stayed in the rallies but a tiny mistake, like hitting the ball too hard would set her back. In the second set, she used her drop shot more to move Lewis around. After a long first set, fatigue was starting to set in for Lewis, and Victoria Duval pushed her around even more.
"This was a great tournament for her," Nadine Duval said. "She needed this boost. The past few months have been an adjustment for her. She has new coaches, new friends, new everything. And it has been difficult. She's been losing matches lately and she's not used to that. That's why I'm so happy to see her do well here."