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Forged in adversity: Haiti's teen tennis hope aims for the top

By Paul Gittings, CNN
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Off-court battles of young tennis ace
  • Haiti native Vickie Duval is tipped to reach the top in women's tennis
  • The 15-year-old is training at the famous Nick Bollettieri academy in Florida
  • Her father Jean-Maurice was seriously injured in earthquake-hit Haiti in January 2010
  • He came close to death before being rescued thanks to help from an Atlanta family

(CNN) -- Vickie Duval has been tipped to be the next Venus Williams, but tennis was the last thing on the teenager's mind when the devastating earthquake struck her native Haiti in 2010.

Duval's father, Jean-Maurice, had stayed home to run a medical practice while his daughter chased her dream of grand slam glory by living and training in the United States.

In the trail of devastation left by earthquake on January 12 last year, Jean-Maurice was trapped under the rubble of his home and business and feared that without urgent medical attention he would die.

"One morning we got a call from him and he was (trapped) under the house," his 15-year-old daughter recalled in an interview with CNN's Open Court.

"He was sort of giving us his last words and said to my mum, 'Tell the kids I love them.' Mum just collapsed on the floor, but she said, 'No, no, no, you are going to make it.' "

Within 10 years hopefully I will win a couple of grand slams -- 10 or so would be nice!
--Vickie Duval
  • Tennis
  • WTA Tour Inc.
  • Nick Bollettieri
  • Haiti
  • Atlanta

Duval's father managed to escape from the ruins of his property, but was left with a shattered left arm, fractured vertebrae, five broken ribs and a punctured lung.

In the post-earthquake chaos, the medical attention he needed so urgently was just not available, and he knew his chances of survival were slim.

But some Good Samaritans came to the rescue.

Vickie had moved from the famous Nick Bollettieri academy in Florida to train in Atlanta for a spell.

Practicing in Georgia's capital, she had made friends with Ashley and Natalie Kitchen, whose family rallied around to mount a miracle rescue along with the help of their Norcross tennis club's officials.

Harry Kitchen, a real estate developer, paid $18,000 to charter a private plane to fly to Haiti and bring back Jean-Maurice.

While he has made a good recovery from his horrific injuries, he will be unable to work as a doctor again.

But acknowledging the family's financial plight, friends and colleagues of tennis guru Bollettieri have stepped forward to provide the funding necessary for Vickie to continue training at his academy.

Bollettieri, who helped greats such as Andre Agassi reach the top, has every confidence Duval can fulfil her vast potential.

"It looks like she will grow to between 6ft and 6ft 1in, built the same as Venus Williams. We are teaching her the total game," he told CNN.

Duval has always been one of the leading players in her respective age groups in the United States, but recently took her first tentative steps into senior ranks.

Playing at a WTA Challenger event in Michigan, she beat former top-50 player Mashona Washington in straight sets in the first round.

It earned her a few ranking points, but Duval is aiming much bigger and higher than that.

"Nick tells me a lot that I play like Venus, but I really idolize Kim Clijsters," she said of the three-time U.S. Open champion. "Within 10 years hopefully I will win a couple of grand slams -- 10 or so would be nice!"

No player from Haiti has ever reached that level, but former men's top-20 star Ronald Agenor put the poor Caribbean country on the tennis map with his exploits until he retired from the ATP Tour in 2002.

Bollettieri believes Duval has the inner steel required to compete against the best, despite her gentle personality.

"She's unusual because she's very humble out there, but underneath she's getting meaner," he said.