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Posted November 1, 2006
               

10-year-old Haitian-American Delray tennis talent dreams of turning pro being no. 1

                         
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Eliza Gutierez/The Post

Victoria Duval hits balls at a court near her Delray Beach home. She recently won the Seminole County Fall Sectional Girls 14s tourney in Sanford. In 2005, she was ranked No.1 in the state in the USTA for her age division.

DELRAY BEACH — For Delray Beach tennis player Victoria Duval, nothing piques her interest like a challenge.

The 10-year-old, who is one of the nation's top-ranked juniors, has given some of her best performances in the toughest matches.

"She loves challenges," said her mother, Nadine. "If it's challenging, she's going to go for it."

Victoria earned one of her biggest wins of the season at the Seminole County Fall Sectional Girls 14s tournament, held Oct. 7-9 in Sanford. Despite being younger and smaller than many of her opponents, she swept her way to the tournament final, where she defeated Tampa's Amber Li, 6-3, 6-3.

Victoria said her goal was to go out and give her best effort. "I felt like I had nothing to lose," she said.

Victoria was born in Miami, but lived in Haiti until she and her family moved to South Florida three years ago. Without any lessons, she won the first tournament she entered as a 6-year-old in Haiti.

Nadine said she had hoped that Victoria would be a ballerina, but that dream eventually gave way to serves and volleys.

Victoria's older brothers, Cedric, who plays for the men's tennis team at Lynn University, and Leo, who plays for the Spanish River High team, inspired her.

"It started with Cedric. (He) wanted to play and then it got contagious," Nadine said. "Emotionally, at first (the ups and downs were) so hard that, really, I didn't want that for Victoria. It was really her choice."

It didn't take long for Victoria to make an impact after returning to the States. From January 2005 to this past January, she was ranked No. 1 in the state in the U.S. Tennis Association Girls 10s division. Although she has not played enough 10s matches to be ranked in that class this year, she is currently ranked seventh nationally and No. 3 in Florida in the 12s division. She is also ranked No. 32 in the state 14s division and No. 146 in the 16s division.

Soft-spoken off the court, Victoria is not shy in proclaiming that her dream is "to be No. 1 in the world" some day.

Regardless of what her tennis future holds, Nadine said she believes her daughter has developed a confidence that will serve her later in life.

"What's special about Vicky is she has some qualities," Nadine said. "I said, 'You're courageous, you're determined and you're reliable.' If she keeps up with these qualities, she's going to go far. "

Victoria trains five days a week with USTA national coach Jai DiLouie in the USTA's Player Development Program in Key Biscayne. She is a sixth-grader in the Florida Connections Academy, an online school that allows her to study at home in the mornings. She previously trained at the Rick Macci Tennis Academy, which developed superstars such as Venus and Serena Williams and Andy Roddick.

"She has a great attitude and really loves the game," DiLouie said. "She's a very intelligent and smart little girl out on the court."

Victoria said the tough matches are her favorites. "If it's a hard match, I'm happy," she said.

Later this month, she will compete in the Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championships in Bradenton. She will compete in the Orange Bowl tournament in December.

Victoria will turn 11 on Nov. 30 and wants to be playing professionally in four years. But her mother said there is no timetable for entering a pro career.

"You never know what can happen, but I just want her to be well-balanced," said Nadine. "I keep telling her that she is able to do great things, even if it's in tennis or anything else."

Copyright 2006, The Palm Beach Post. Reprinted from The Palm Beach Post of Wednesday, November 1, 2006.

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