It is difficult to upstage Kim Clijsters at Flushing Meadows, especially if you lose.
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But in the nicest possible way Victoria Duval did just that. Victoria is an American who spent some of her childhood in Haiti and is still just 16. She lost 6-3, 6-1 to the three-time former champion, but still managed to captivate everyone with her game and her exuberant personality.
Not since Martina Hingis, who achieved the extraordinary feat of becoming No. 1 in the world at that age, has a 16-year-old made such an impact on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was somehow fitting that Clijsters should be the one to want to take a photo with Duval as a souvenir.
“I couldn’t believe that,” Duval giggled afterwards. “It should have been me asking for a photograph. She’s my idol. I was just so excited.
“Going out there I was really nervous, but I think I managed to handle it all quite well. The whole atmosphere was so much more than I expected. The crowd was so big, and it is so different being out there from watching it on TV. It’s not every 16-year-old who gets to play out there, so I was feeling pretty special!”
Venus Williams is another player Duval, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., looks up to.
“I don’t know whether I am going to grow as tall as her,” Duval said. “I’m feeling a little clumsy right now, but when it all gets together, hopefully it will be OK.”
Clijsters seemed to enjoy the occasion just as much.
“I had moments when I was younger when I played Steffi (Graf) at Wimbledon and she was my big idol,” Clijsters recalled. “So it kind of takes you back through a lot of emotions and memories.
“It was nice in a way to get a feeling of the atmosphere from her side. I just told her that we’ve all been there, and it’s great to have these opportunities. We spoke a bit after the match. She was really sweet. I think she has a good game to be out there.”
In her next match Clijsters will meet another teenager, Laura Robson, who defeated 17-year-old Samantha Crawford, an American who is even younger and less experienced than herself, 7-6, 6-1.
“Yes, that was a first,” said Robson, admitting that it felt a little strange.
Equally strange was the fact that Robson had more supporters in the crowd on Court Four than her opponent because a sizeable group of British fans turned up, still in Olympic mode, chanting about Team GB. Some were dressed as clowns. The Brits like to do that sort of thing at sporting events.
“It was great,” said Robson. “Let’s have more clowns. Although they’ll probably be dressed in something else next time. They are very inventive.”
Robson will have to be very inventive to beat Clijsters, but the young Brit says she is looking forward to being on a big court with the three-time US Open champ (2010, ’09 & ’05).
“I’ll just do my best and see what happens,” said the left-handed Robson, whose big forehand is starting to worry players on the tour. “But it will be great to play Kim. She is one of the nicest women on the tour and has always been great with me.”
Crawford is tall and hits an explosive array of shots, some of which go in and plenty that don’t. Robson admitted that she had no idea where Crawford’s serve was going.
But the match had another explosive aspect to it. At one moment, just as Crawford was about to serve, fireworks went off as the opening ceremony drew to a conclusion. Judy Murray, Andy’s mother who is the British Fed Cup captain, jumped out of her skin.
“So did I,” Robson laughed. “I was still trying to get myself together when Crawford served. I think I lost that point!”
Roger Federer didn’t need any fireworks to win his opening match in the nightcap. The world’s No. 1 player needed just 1 hour, 34 minutes to beat Donald Young 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in a match that was a little closer than the score suggests. Young hit 17 winners, including a lovely backhand cross court to save a match point. But it was never going to be enough against the majestic Swiss.