Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Cancer survivor gains main draw; Date, 46, falls

Victoria Duval, slugging a backhand in her final-round
qualifying win in the Stockton (Calif.) Challenger, has
overcome three harrowing personal crises, plus a knee
operation. Photo by Paul Bauman
   STOCKTON, Calif. -- Kimiko Date peaked at No. 4 in the world on
Nov. 13, 1995. Seventeen days later, Victoria Duval came into the world.
   They continued their remarkable stories today in the $60,000 University of the Pacific Stockton Challenger.
   Duval has overcome three harrowing personal crises, plus a knee operation, in her 21 years. She overpowered fellow American Kristina N. Smith 6-2, 6-1 in the morning at the Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center in the final round of qualifying.
   Japan's Date (pronounced DAH-tay), still playing professionally at the preposterous age of 46, fell to seventh-seeded Usue (pronounced OO-sway) Maitane Arconada, an 18-year-old American, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 on a hot, gusty afternoon.
   Date led 3-1 in the second set when she began to tire, and then her surgically repaired left knee tightened up early in the third set. The hard-hitting Arconada, who reached No. 5 in the junior world rankings, swept the last 11 games of the match.
   Duval was born in Miami but lived in Haiti until she was 8. At age 7, she was held hostage in an armed robbery in her aunt's house in Port-au-Prince, along with several cousins before being freed unharmed. Duval has put the incident out of her mind.
   "I have made sure that was locked away in a box," she said in her high-pitched voice.  
   After the robbery, Duval's mother, Nadine, gave up her neonatal practice and moved Vicky and her two brothers to South Florida, leaving behind Vicky's father, Jean-Maurice, to continue his obstetrics and gynecology practice in Port-au-Prince.
   Vicky then moved with her mother to Atlanta to work with coach Brian de Villiers at the Racquet Club of the South. Vicky was training in Atlanta in January 2010 when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. Estimates of the death toll range from 100,000 to 360,000.
   Vicky's father was trapped under collapsing walls outside his home for 11 hours. His legs were broken, his left arm was crushed, he suffered seven fractured ribs and a punctured lung, and an infection spread throughout his body. A wealthy Atlanta family connected to the club where Vicky trained donated money to have him airlifted to a Fort Lauderdale hospital.
   "He's still paralyzed in his left arm," Duval said. "Everything else is fine."
   At age 17, Duval qualified for the 2013 U.S. Open and shocked 2011 champion Samantha Stosur in the first round.
   Shortly before reaching a career-high No. 87 in August 2014, Duval was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system (part of the immune system). She missed a year while undergoing chemotherapy and has been cancer-free since then.
   By comparison, her surgery for a torn meniscus in her left knee last summer was relatively minor. Still, she missed nine months.
   Reflecting on all her misfortune, Duval said she never asks, why me?
   "People go through worse things in life," she submitted. "I never (pity myself). I don't have that kind of personality, so anything I've been through, you just buckle down and do it."
   This is the fourth tournament of the 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Duval's comeback. She has reached two semifinals on the minor-league USTA Pro Circuit since returning to improve her ranking to No. 436.
   Duval is scheduled to face third-seeded Danielle Collins, the 2014 and 2016 NCAA champion from Virginia, on Wednesday not before 10:30 a.m.
   "I just feel privileged to be back on the court," Duval allowed.
Kimiko Date, 46, of Japan lost to seventh-seeded Usue Maitane Arconada,
an 18-year-old American, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 in the first round of the main draw
in Stockton. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Date, only 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters) and 117 pounds (53.1 kilograms), said in halting English that her knee "is not big problem" and she plans to play in next week's $60,000 Sacramento Challenger at the Gold River Racquet Club.
   Date frustrated Arconada with devastating flat groundstrokes and great gets before tiring and taking a medical timeout at 0-3 (two service breaks) in the third set.
   It was easy to see how Date reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in 1994, the French Open in 1995 and Wimbledon in 1996. However, she retired four days before her 26th birthday in September 1996, a victim of burnout, and returned a whopping 12 years later. At age 39 in 2010, Date became the oldest player to rank in the top 50 since Billie Jean King was No. 22 at age 40 in 1984.
   Date advanced to the semifinals of the inaugural Stockton Challenger in 2015 but missed last year's tournament because of two operations on her left knee. She still seeks her first main-draw victory in three tournaments since returning in early May.
   Stockton was Date's first tournament since she qualified for a $25,000 event in Changwon, South Korea, in mid-May and retired from her first-round match with a right shoulder injury.
   "Still I have problem with my shoulder," said Date, who could not have been more gracious with reporters after the match. "That's why I cannot hit hundred percent."
   The unranked Date said her motivation is "just to enjoy to play tennis. I love competition, I love traveling. Everybody asking me, 'Why you continue to play? Anytime you can stop.' I don't need to stop (laughs). One day when I feel it's time to stop, of course I will stop. But still I want to continue."
   Her goal?
  "Yeah, it's most difficult," Date conceded. "I don't need a ranking anymore. Also, it's difficult to be (top) hundred anymore. I just want to play hundred percent, (not) worry about my body, just focus on the ball and try hundred percent on the match. Then maybe I feel it's time to stop. But last two, three years, always I have some problem, so it's difficult." 
   Date, who divorced German race car driver Michael Krumm last September but said they remain good friends, laughed heartily when asked how long she'd like to play.
   "I don't know," she mused. "Slowly, (retirement) is coming."
   Notes -- Top-seeded Kristie Ahn, a 5-foot-5 (1.65-meter) former Stanford star, defeated lanky Sophie Chang of Havre de Grace, Md., 6-2, 7-5 in a ragged match. Ahn, ranked No. 117, faces a tough assignment in the second round against fellow American Irina Falconi, who is rebounding from toe surgery after climbing to a career-high No. 63 in May 2016. ...
   Wild card Anna Tatishvili, a 27-year-old U.S. citizen from the nation of Georgia, ousted eighth-seeded Jennifer Elie, 30, of New York 6-4, 7-6 (4). ...
   Fourth-seeded Sofia Kenin, a resident of Pembroke Pines, Fla., who won last year's Sacramento Challenger, topped Vera Lapko of Belarus 6-4, 7-5 in matchup of 18-year-olds. ...
   Northern Californians Michaela Gordon and Allie Will advanced to the main draw with 7-5, 6-1 victories. The Stanford-bound Gordon, a resident of Saratoga in the San Francisco Bay Area who will turn 18 on July 26, defeated Ena Shibahara, who won last year's U.S. Open girls doubles title with UCLA teammate Jada Hart. Will, a former top-100 doubles player who teaches tennis in Fairfield (near San Francisco), beat former USC standout Brynn Boren. ...
   Here are the Stockton singles, doubles and qualifying draws and Wednesday's schedule.

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