Naomi Osaka may not be able to defend her title at the upcoming U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament she won last year in New York when she beat Serena Williams, the living icon of Women Tennis. Naomi hurt her knee while playing in the quarter final of the Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati. She was playing well, having defeated Hsieh whom she seems to find in her path too often in three sets and she looked fine, having fun, hitting the ball hard and cleanly, going for winners. Previously she had lost in the quarter finals of Toronto to a red hot Serena Williams who was looking for revenge after previously losing to Naomi twice before. One of the losses was the famous final match at the U.S. Open last year when Naomi came out of relative obscurity to catapult herself to stardom by besting Serena when she melted and was penalized by the chair umpire.
Naomi followed the feat with a victory at the Australian Open in Sydney to become no. 1 in Women Tennis. Naomi Osaka stands to lose a lot of points and her no. 1 status if she does not defend her title at the U.S. Open this year. She is having an MRI done on her left knee which she hurt facing Sofia Kenin in Cincinnati. She retired in the third set after a couple of games when she felt the knee give out. It is profoundly terrible because Naomi is our Haitian-Japanese star whom we root for and see as a shining beacon for young Haitian girls. She is so wholesome, open, free spirited and gifted that you cannot help but get behind her. We were looking forward to her having a deep run in New York for the Open but fate can be cruel and Naomi has been betrayed by her body a few times this past year. The schedule has been grueling and the matches are difficult from the start. Her father Francois who was born in Haiti must feel terrible, as he follows all her matches.
Naomi was injured twice during the clay court season this year and she retired from tournaments both times. As she is still very young, 21 years old I believe, her body is not strong enough to withstand the day to day grind of top tournaments where you may have to play five matches in a week sometimes if you want to win. Also Naomi has had a lot of matches that lasted three sets. She seems to lack the killer instinct to finish off lesser ranked opponents quickly in earlier rounds of tournaments. Although we have to recognize the evolvement and over all progress of Women in tennis in terms of athletic abilities, and their capacity to play hard for long periods with much better stamina. Gone are the days when top players like Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova would cruise with short matches 6-1, 6-0, rarely more than 6-3 until the semis. In the first round these days no match is taken for granted as opponents hit hard and play very well. No more boring one sided affairs and to win the top seeds must work hard and play well. The points last longer and rallies average five or six shots where before after two shots the point was over in early rounds. So after two tough three set matches previous to her match with Kenin, Naomi got hurt and may have to pull out of the U.S. Open.
Victoria Duval has been blazing in her return to tennis after a long absence when she had knee surgery. Previously Victoria had to deal with being diagnosed with cancer back in 2014 right after she had made a fulgurous rise at the U.S. Open by beating Samantha Stosur in 2013, then a top 20 player who used to really hit hard. Sam was a hard server who backed it with a strong forehand if you recall. When Victoria Duval beat her then, she was the toast of New York, the pride of Haitian Americans, conquering Flushing Meadows. She did not win the tournament but her career looked promising until it was derailed by the cancer which she beat with treatment and determination to return to her love, tennis. I remember watching her in Haiti at the Lope De Vega Tennis Club in Delmas when she would play after her older brother finished his lesson. She loved the game then and she still does now that her family has moved to Florida back in 2004.
So Victoria Duval is fully back now. She won an ITFUSA tournament last year and made a final this year which she lost to H. Baptiste, a young African American player. Last week playing the ITF USA 29 tournament in Landisville, Pennsylvania she reached the semi-final where she lost to M. Brengle, quite a feat when you consider that she had to play in the qualifiers, an extra two matches, before she started the main draw of the tournament. Al. together this time around she won five matches in a row before succumbing, and probably earned herself a nice paycheck. I remember watching her as a rising star on the Junior Circuit when she came to Haiti as a twelve year old; she was beating fourteen year olds regularly then.
Victoria Duval has entered the U.S. Open qualifying tournament in New York and she will play on Tuesday August 20 against L. Xu. We need to get behind her and will her to qualifying for the main draw of the Open. Maybe she can duplicate the performance of 2013 with a win against a top 10 player. But she has to qualify first.
Both of these young women are a breath of fresh air and a welcome distraction from the travails and drama of Haitian socio-political life. They are both representing Haitian cultural heritage at a high level on the world stage. They are both wonderful young women and we wish them success in tennis and in life in general. Financially Naomi Osaka has done well as she is one of the top earners in the field of Women Athletes, I believe only Serena Williams earned more than she did this past year in wages and endorsements. She has also earned a great deal of awards and made the cover of magazines. So she is on her way and it’s time for Victoria Duval to follow suit.