By: Jane Voigt
Victoria Duval, Taylor Townsend, and Gala Leon Garcia grabbed headlines this year, each deserving the attention:
Victoria Duval turned the heads of many fans at last year’s US Open. Just 16 and ranked No. 289 in the world, she defeated the 2011 winner Samantha Stosur under the lights of Louis Armstrong Stadium in front of a raucous night crowd. Undaunted by the occasion, Duval hit away. Her belief, perseverance, sweet smile and story, snuck into the hearts of fans around the world.
Then came the bad news.
At Wimbledon she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. With the same bravery and belief she demonstrated at the Open, Duval took on her disease head-on. Playing through the initial news, Duval reached the second round as a qualifier, upsetting No. 29 seed Sorana Cirstea in three grueling sets along the way. On September 22, she was declared cancer free. She announced the news on Twitter, which was met with congratulatory tweets from friends like Taylor Townsend, Billie Jean King and teen Aussie sensation, Nick Kyrgios.
Taylor Townsend’s 2014 was a breakout year, but her sensitivity to the seriousness of Duval’s health must precede the accolades about on-court performance. Duval had promised to play World Team Tennis (WTT) over the summer, but was obviously unable to honor her commitment due to her diagnosis. King called Townsend and, without hesitation, she agreed to step in for her colleague, compatriot, and close friend.
“She [Townsend] said she wanted to do it for Vicky,” King told USA Today. Over the WTT season, Townsend and King either wrote or called Duval as often as possible. “It’s really a team effort,” King said. “We are there to encourage her, to let her know that we love her and we care about her. I want the players to be champions in life, on and off the court.”
Townsend’s spirit of community will serve her well, especially on the court. She proved her potential at smaller events throughout the year, but it was her win over Alizé Cornet in Paris that put Townsend on the tennis map. With coach Zina Garrison by Townsend’s side and mental strength made a priority for the year, the American pushed through four rounds at Citi Open in Washington D.C., then another four rounds in Cincinnati. Although excited to play Serena Williams at The US Open, meeting her in the first round didn’t do much for ranking climb.
Nonetheless, she ends the year ranked No. 102, leaps and bounds ahead of her her French Open ranking of No. 205.
Hiring a Davis Cup captain is almost always political. With social media wagging tail at most important decisions, the appointment of Gala Leon Garcia to lead the Spanish Davis Cup team was no different. Some were appalled — she’s a woman in a man’s position. Some leaned into the choice with nothing but faith to guide them — she’s experienced and could lift the sagging morale of a team that ended outside the World Group for the first time in 18 years. Spain had won Davis Cup five times over that span.
Her appointment, made after former Captain Carlos Moya stepped down after less than a year at the helm, garnered praise from Andy Murray, who had hired Amelie Mauresmo earlier in the year.
By contrast, comments from “Uncle Toni” Nadal —Rafael’s coach — came from a different point of view. He claimed, “A woman doesn’t know men’s tennis because men’s tennis isn’t the same as women’s tennis.”
On a Spanish radio, Onda Cero, he told listeners, “It is preferable that [the captain] is someone with a background in the world of men’s tennis. I have nothing against her; I don’t know what her capabilities are, and I hope she does her job well. But, in theory, she is a person that doesn’t know men’s tennis. The truth is that the men’s game isn’t the same as the women’s game on the tactical level, not that one is better than the other.”
Facts, though, dispute Toni Nadal’s angle. Murray has worked well alongside Mauresmo. Mother Judy, can be praised for a job well done coaching Andy and brother Jamie through their formative years. Denis Istomin employs his mother as coach. Mikhail Kukushkin employs his wife.
“We’ve been taught that we’re not as good at things,” Billie Jean King told BBC Sport Tennis. “That’s the way world culture works. A lot of people don’t like to be controversial — everything is branding today. We grew up seeing the world through mens’ eyes.”
Spain’s new Davis Cup caption is 40 years old, a former WTA player and now the first woman ever to take the reins of this Century-old international competition. She will coach a team of men, not just one man. That’s a big step for women’s sports, no matter the discipline.
Follow Jane on Twitter @downthetee!