Vicky Duval is a familiar name to American tennis fans: the young Miami-born Haitian-American player has been making her mark on the game since she knocked out former champion Sam Stosur in the first round of the 2013 US Open and climbed to a career-high ranking of World No.87.
But her promising career was interrupted in 2014 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at Wimbledon. She won the battle against cancer, but was sidelined again in 2016 after undergoing knee surgery.
With a couple of false starts behind her, Duval is back on the court and back to full health. She’s quietly improved her ranking by more than 600 spots, and now she’s just ready to pick up where she left off.
Here are 11 reasons why Vicky Duval is one to watch in 2018:
1. She's only 22 and is already working on her third comeback to tennis.
Duval has been sidelined from the game twice - once in 2016 for knee surgery, and in 2014 due to Hodgkin’s lymphoma - but the bubbly American refuses to be kept down.
“It’s kind of crazy when I look back and think about my life and the things I’ve had to overcome, being so young,” she told wtatennis.com in an exclusive interview. “But I think those are milestones that have helped me grow as a person. I’m really grateful of the way I’ve handled them and the way I overcame them.”
2. But she’s not calling it a comeback.
After beating cancer in 2014, Duval remembers having to start from square one in her return to tennis. Now, coming back from knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, she’s taking the same blank-slate approach to her second return.
“It’s kind of surreal to think that I’m coming back; I feel like I’m just now starting my career. You know, I’ve had good moments in my youth but I feel like now my body is where it needs to be, my mind is where it needs to be - so I’m just looking forward to starting my career. This just feels like a start for me, really.”
3. Duval started her season in April, ranked No.896, and immediately fired a warning shot to the rest field.
Duval made her comeback to tennis in April after taking a wildcard into the ITF 80K event in Indian Harbour Beach. She made it all the way to the semifinals, but not before claiming a big scalp along the way: she defeated former World No.5 Eugenie Bouchard, ranked No.56 at the time, 6-0, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the clay event.
"When I first started in April, it was just so nice to be back on the court competing and doing what I love. I was just going week by week with no expectations, I wasn’t sure how my body was going to hold up. But I was so happy and proud of the progress I made."
4. She went on to claim a number of big-name wins in 2017.
In addition to defeating the former Wimbledon finalist Bouchard at Indian Harbour, Duval went on to notch a number of big victories over higher ranked players.
Here are a few of the names she took down: Ajla Tomljanovic (formerly ranked No.47 and starting a comeback herself), Danielle Collins (a former NCAA champion who once pushed Simona Halep to three sets at the US Open), Wang Yafan (then ranked No.120 and one of China’s fastest rising stars), and Kayla Day (a former Junior US Open champion who knocked out Australian Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni out of Indian Wells).
“Those were some solid matches for me,” Duval reflected. “It was really nice to see the level at which I was able to compete. And at Indian Harbour, I had to play some of those back to back, like with Ajla [Tomljanovic] and [Eugenie] Bouchard. So it was nice to see that I could consistently stay at that level.
“And obviously with each week I gained momentum and gained confidence. It definitely gave me a lot of confidence going forward, feeling like I could be right back up there pretty soon, right where I left off.”
Duval considers the victory over Wang in the US Open qualifiers to be one of the highlights of her season:
“At the US Open when I won that second-round qualifying match against Wang Yafan, that was a really good feeling for me because I was down 6-2, 4-1 in the match and I clawed my way back [to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-4]. That’s probably the highlight match for me this year.”
5. Duval reached two ITF-level finals this year, including a big one at Macon 80K.
Since coming back to action in April and reaching the semifinals at Indian Harbour Beach, Duval has been steadily racking up the strong wins and chipping away at her ranking. She reached two finals, one at Lubbock 25K and another at Macon 80K, which she considers the highlight moment of her 2017 season.
“It was such a really good feeling to hold a trophy again,” she said. “That was definitely really nice.”
6. She returned to the winner's circle after taking home a very special doubles title, in one of the most heartwarming stories of 2017.
Duval capped off a stellar season by lifting her first champion's trophy since 2013 when she won the doubles title at ITF Lubbock, and she did it while teamed up with fellow Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor Alisa Kleybanova.
“When I was doing my treatment [for Hodgkin's lymphoma] Alisa was really supportive,” Duval recalled, explaining the pair’s inspiring partnership. “Obviously, she’s been through the same thing as me, so she had a lot of positive things to tell me and a lot of words of encouragement. We kept in touch a little bit through that, and I’ve been following her results like she follows mine too.
“I think she texted me and asked me to play doubles, actually. And I knew how great it was for us to both even be playing again and what a story it would be for us to do well, so I was like “Sure, man!” And we didn’t even have a ranking so we had to qualify!
“But it was so nice to do that with her, it was a great experience. Not only to be on the court with her - because, you know, I looked up to her when she was ranked in the 20s in the world. Just to share that stage with her was awesome.”
7. She improved her ranking more than 600 spots to finish the season at 229, but she’s not done yet.
Speaking of her goals for the upcoming year, Duval has set a number of challenges for herself in 2018:
“As far as tournaments go, of course I want to win every tournament I play,” she laughed. “But my biggest goal, I would say, is my ranking. I would really like to see myself in the Top 100 by the end of next year, and I think that’s definitely doable for me, especially if I stay fit and healthy.
“And, ultimately, my tennis goal is to keep executing what I’m working on in practice, especially with moving forward more and building weapons in my game.”
8. Duval keeps up with the success of her peers…
This year’s rollercoaster WTA season saw a 19-year-old Jelena Ostapenko win the French Open and a 24-year-old Sloane Stephens take home the US Open crown, while 21-year-old Ashleigh Barty and 24-year-old Elina Svitolina both made their mark.
22-year-old Duval was definitely watching.
“For sure it gives a lot of confidence to the younger players to see someone like Ostapenko and Sloane winning Grand Slams, and even Madison [Keys] all accomplishing what they accomplished this year.
“I was definitely following and I made little notes in my head on things I want to work on to achieve that. I can speak for myself - but probably for a lot of young players watching, too - when I think, 'Well, if they can do it I can do it too.' It’s very encouraging to see things like that.”
9. ...And she’s taking notes, too.
Duval added: “I’ve followed some of CoCo [Vandeweghe]’s results and I noticed one thing that she really added to her game is moving forward. She’s very aggressive from the baseline, but she’s also able to finish the points off at the net.
“I’ve been working a lot on that transition and hopefully I can start implementing it next year, really using all parts of the court when I play.”
10. She’s using the off season to build on her 2017 rise, and build more weapons in her game.
“Obviously at this stage of my comeback it’s just really making sure that physically my body is able to handle the workload, the day-to-day activities,” she explained. “I’ve made a lot of progress there, I feel like my body is at a really, really solid place right now.
“On the court, I’m working on my serve. I want to come back next year with that as a weapon. I’m spending some time tweaking some things and working on the motion and things with my technique. Those are really the two main areas of focus for me, and I feel like at this stage I’m on the right track.”
11. She likes to win matches by outlasting her opponents, though her strategy might change in 2018.
Duval points to consistency, court awareness and a “fighting spirit” as some of the biggest keys to her game, but hints that her strategy might change as her tennis continues to evolve.
“Overall I think it goes back to the serve and making sure I have a lot of weapons in my game. I think I can rely on my fighting spirit and my court awareness a lot. But I just want to be able to have weapons. So going forward, I just want to win more matches decisively with having weapons instead of just fighting my way through the match.
“For me, how I feel like I win matches well is when I know that I’m wearing my opponent out and I’m like a wall back there. So building on that is definitely the next step.”