8 min read
Vicky Duval (UTR Rating 11.68*) has played on the biggest stages in tennis, and overcome the greatest obstacles in life. Now at the still-tender age of 25, she’s still focused on giving the sport everything she’s got.
Duval's comeback has been far from her first. She hit the pro tour as a teenager, making her debut at the 2012 US Open as a wild card after winning the USTA Girls’ 18’s National Championships. One year later, at just 17 years old, she qualified for the US Open on her own account and stunned 2011 champion Samantha Stosur in the first round.
At Wimbledon in 2014, she qualified and reached the second round to earn her place inside of the WTA Top 100 for the first time. It was during the qualifying event in Roehampton that she found out that she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the immune system. What followed was 13 months of chemotherapy and treatment before emerging cancer-free in 2015.
“When I first got diagnosed, I was doing really well, I was very young and you kind of feel invincible at that age,” Duval told Universal Tennis. “I was cracking the WTA Top 100; I was really on my upswing. I think at that point I realized that I'm not invincible and that's when I started school because tennis was taken away from me so quickly."
A Comeback Filled with Setbacks
Since 2015, Duval has been slowly working her way back into top shape with a number of injury setbacks making the process more difficult. She has undergone two knee surgeries, in 2016 and 2019, and, in 2018, she had a stress fracture in her left foot at the same time that she had a partial ligament tear in her right ankle.
During her lengthy bouts of time away from the court, she worked on her college degree and will graduate in December from Indiana East University, an online curriculum. She also started a YouTube channel, and began podcasting regularly.
“I've had this crazy optimism with everything I do, which is really helpful obviously,” Duval said. “Also I have some hobbies that I do to keep my mind off of certain things. I paint a lot, and I'm in school. I'll finally get that degree. I'm very of the mentality that everything happens for a reason, so I think I'm able to stay positive because I don't try to dwell on things for too long.”
Making the Most of 2021
Her health and tennis began taking a turn for the better in 2021. The American started the season by winning the UTR Pro Tennis Tour Naples Women’s $25K Clay 1 in January. Though she lost a match in Group A play, she beat compatriot Reese Brantmeier (UTR Rating 11.41) in the final to claim the trophy.
It marked her first pro tournament title since capturing a W50 ITF tournament in Toronto back in 2013, and it was her first tournament back in action since October 2019.
“That was a really nice confidence boost for me to go out there and obviously win it,” Duval said. “It's been a little bit of a long road. I've been playing almost full out since February—just kind of building every week. So far I'm healthy and feeling good and that's pretty much the only thing I can ask for at this point.”
Embracing Every Stage
Based in Bradenton, Fla. since her junior-playing days, Duval has plenty of great training partners and UTR PTT events in her backyard. Naples was near enough to test out her competitive spirit and health.
“I wasn't really sure how my body was gonna hold up,” she said. “I'm traveling again so I figured it was nice and close and it's obviously a $25K event with pretty good prize money so I went for it. It was a lot of matches and a confidence boost to see that I could hold up for the whole week.”
She returned to the big stage at the US Open this summer after receiving a wild card into the qualifying event. She won her first round before falling to compatriot Caroline Dolehide in three sets. It was a tough loss to swallow but Duval bounced back, having found ways to pick herself up time and time again.
Since New York, she has appeared in two quarterfinals on the ITF Pro Circuit. Instead of obsessing over titles and rankings, Duval is focused on staying healthy and doing what she loves, with endless options ahead after finishing her degree.
“Going back out on court, some of the small stuff doesn't matter,” Duval said. “You have perspective about just being out there and being healthy, which is kind of the outlook I have now whenever I'm able to do a full practice or a full tournament with no aches and just enjoying myself again."
•UTR Ratings and Rankings as of 9 a.m. EST, Nov. 18, 2021.