LONDON – Back at Wimbledon for the first time since she found out two years ago she had cancer, Vicky Duval felt her eyes welling with tears.
The 20-year-old American was moved, yes, by merely being on court once again at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament. And she also was upset by the way she was playing Monday, dropping the first eight games of what would become a 6-0, 7-5 loss to 29th-seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia.
“More than anything,” Duval said, “today was really hard emotionally.”
Asked to explain the feelings racing through her mind out on Court 4, she said: “Obviously happy that I’m back. But tears of disappointment that I know I can be a lot better than this. So it’s just kind of going to be a process. I’m a little bit impatient right now. I’m expecting it to be a long road back, but I want it sooner than later.”
She has reason to be demanding.
At the 2013 U.S. Open, at only 17, Duval showed her promise by stunning 2011 champion Sam Stosur in the first round.
It was less than a year later, while trying to qualify for Wimbledon, that Duval was diagnosed with the blood cancer Hodgkin lymphoma. She played on, making it to the main draw and then surprisingly beating a seeded player, Sorana Cirstea.
After a yearlong break that included treatment for cancer, Duval returned to playing low-level events. Because of her time away from the main tour, Duval’s ranking is 572nd, but she is allowed to use what’s called a “protected ranking” to automatically get into eight tournaments of her choosing.
Her comeback stalled early this season, though, when she had knee surgery.
At the All England Club, simply setting foot on court was a symbolic step forward.
“The first set, I was just really overwhelmed, more than anything,” Duval said. “I couldn’t really play because, you know, it’s a lot of emotions, of the past and stuff.”
She said she put a towel over her head while being outplayed in the first set “in case something was going to happen – I was like, `I don’t want anyone to see me cry.'”
Then, in the second set, when Duval heard plenty of crowd support and made things more competitive, she said she tried to distract herself by singing Drake’s song “One Dance” in her head.
“The biggest thing was for me to come here and prove to myself that I’m past what happened to me. And even though I didn’t feel that physically I was in tiptop shape to be here, it would have killed me if I didn’t play,” Duval said. “I wanted to, more than anything, prove to myself that I’m strong enough to be back here and be past this.”