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NEW YORK -- The US Open was in just its second day when a 17-year-old American, 296th-ranked Victoria Duval, captivated the grounds with the fresh face and wonderment of a child and the mature, attacking ground strokes that created a special buzz.
It was that magical whispering special to a major tournament -- "You hear what's going on at Armstrong Stadium?" -- that surged at first, and then with each successive match point swept Duval from dreaming of being great toward the truth that winning means the time has come, ready or not.
With wicked exuberance, Duval's victory over No. 11 Samantha Stosur entered her into the stardust phase of the fame cycle.
Over on Court 11, Duval's mixed-doubles partner, Donald Young, was overlapping her ascension. Young, the phenom forgotten under a massive pile of losses and expectations, frustrations and accusations, and already wrung out by the hero game, is simply trying to breathe.
Two years ago, he was Duval. He had won Wimbledon as a junior, his path certified. He had his own moment on Court 16 in New York, electrifying the grounds with a five-set win over Stanislas Wawrinka, then the world's 14th-ranked player. Young ranked 38th two years ago but is now 157th, and he was nearly invisible on Tuesday while destroying world No. 46 Martin Klizan 6-1, 6-0, 6-1. This is the same Klizan who crushed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga here a year ago.
|Victoria Duval was ecstatic after her first-round win, but Donald Young knows how fleeting that feeling can be.|
Duval beat Stosur at Louis Armstrong Stadium, which was center court here when she was born in 1995, and for one afternoon was once again. It was a win over the same Stosur who two years ago demolished Serena Williams at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the women's final; who is a top-10 fixture and beat Victoria Azarenka in Carlsbad earlier this summer; who has frighteningly chiseled arms and legs, and is a veteran of 720 career singles matches.
That Young and Duval teamed together Wednesday in doubles, and now approach the second round of the US Open on contrasting paths, is a story of both the bookends of fame and its murky middle.
Young's path was dredged when he beat Wawrinka here in 2011, but after defeating Jarkko Nieminen in qualifiers of the Paris Masters that year Young lost his way. He was beaten in 19 of his next 21 matches, including 17 in a row at one point. Between February of 2012 and February of 2013, Young's ranking fell from 38th to 202nd.
He clashed with the USTA after fighting to be named to the Olympic team and not being named to the Davis Cup, convinced (perhaps not incorrectly) that the USTA did not believe in him, was uncomfortable in its handling of an African-American player and did not follow its own policy of naming players based on their rankings.
The USTA did not believe Young mature or particularly tough, evidenced by his career record of 8-71 after losing the first set of a match. The resulting bitterness only furthered Young's difficulties. He spiraled while other young Americans such as Ryan Harrison, Sam Querrey and Jack Sock sprinted past him. Young, once in the main draw of tournaments, has played just two ATP events this year, spending most of the year on the challenger circuit.
He's been better in 2013, beating James Blake in the second round of the Australian Open qualifying, and didn't drop a set in qualifying before crushing Klizan. Young will now play German veteran Florian Mayer, who beat Juan Monaco in the first round.
Duval, meanwhile, shocked Stosur, but did not surprise everyone. She played former champion Kim Clijsters here last year in Clijsters' final tournament, and after winning in straight sets Clijsters told Duval she was going to be a very good player. The two took a photo together.
It may have sounded like a platitude, but great players know elite game when they see it, and Clijsters was clear in her comments afterward that she thought Duval had the power and ground strokes to compete at a high level.
In qualifying at Washington earlier this summer, Duval lost in three sets to Michelle Larcher de Brito, who beat Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon. Duval's next opponent here, Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova, will likely prove to be as difficult as Stosur. It wasn't simply Duval's victory over Stosur that captured the crowd and commentators alike, but her toughness, the signs that she did not fear big moments in a match on a sizable stage.
She was down a set and a break at 4-2 in the second, and won the next four games and the set. In the third, she broke Stosur at 4-4, and came through on her fourth match point. Instead of the teenager, it was Stosur -- who outside of beating Williams in the aforementioned final has always been shaken by nerves -- who blinked. Stosur dropped 10 double-faults and was shanking forehands as the conclusion neared.
"She held it together," Stosur said. "She kept it going. When she got her chance to step up and hit a winner, she did it, just like on match point. Again, credit to her. She did what she had to do."
Magic is one thing, and perspective is another.
Duval is enjoying the magic, while Young has had doses of both. Young's former magic has been diminished somewhat by that perspective, but it remains unforgettable. Duval is unknowing of what is to come, but for now, life consists of receiving text messages from legends (Billie Jean King) and stars (rapper Lil' Wayne), the seductions of the fame cycle ever present.
The two young Americans enter the second round of the tournament representing both sides of the hero game, one riding its wave and about to discover its exhilarating and dangerous power, the other hoping to recover from the bruises of a wipeout, one match at a time.