Getting To Know... Irina Falconi

She won the USTA's French Open wildcard play-off, and tested the defending champion in Brussels this week. Watch out Paris.

Published May 21, 2011 04:17

Getting To Know... Irina Falconi
Irina Falconi

PARIS, France - Having earned her place is this fortnight's French Open draw by winning the USTA's invitation-only play-off, Irina Falconi prepared for her third Grand Slam main draw in fine style: by giving Francesca Schiavone a real workout in the second round of last week's Brussels Open. As a result the 21-year-old American arrives in the French capital full of joie de vivre - and on a new career-high ranking of No.107.

We caught up with the 2010 NCAA College Player of the Year ahead of her first round match at Roland Garros, where she tackles Gisela Dulko on Sunday.

Irina, you just pushed the defending Roland Garros champion to four-and-four in Brussels. You must be feeling pretty good at the moment.
 It was so funny, in the warm-up they were announcing our stats and activity, and were talking about how I'd been in the semifinals of an ITF tournament. Then they introduced Francesca! I knew she would be a tough opponent and obviously in the beginning I was nervous, but once we started hitting I got in the moment and in my zone. And I had chances - I was up 4-2. You go into every match with the intention to win, so obviously I was disappointed with the result. But the match definitely gave me some confidence for this week.

Tell us about your family.
My mom, Silvia, is a case manager at a law firm and my dad, Carlos, has his own custom woodworking company. He used to be a professional soccer player. And I have an older sister, Stephanie, who's 26 and also has played tennis. She's actually just arrived here in Paris with my mom. I was born in Ecuador, but we went to the United States when I was three.

How did you get into tennis?
 I learned to play from my father on the public courts of Inwood, Manhattan. When I was 14, I moved to Florida and was coached by Brenda Schultz-McCarthy for a couple of years. I literally met her the week that I arrived in Florida for the very first time. We hit it off, and she wanted me to be a part of her academy. So I was with her for a while and then I worked with two of the coaches who worked for her - and her husband was my trainer. It was awesome.

Later you decided to go the college tennis route, spending two years as a standout for Georgia Tech. How did college tennis help your development as a player?
You know, [former ATP player] Bryan Shelton, my coach at Tech, is probably the best development coach I've ever had, other than my current coach, Jeff Wilson. And the fact that I got to be on a team and play matches every week was probably the best benefit of college tennis. On the WTA you can go a whole month with just four matches. So being able to get matches every single week and be able to practice every single day, no matter what, was so great.

What did you study at college?
I was a history major, but I wasn't able to get too involved in it before I decided to turn pro in May last year. I just took a lot of the core classes.

What are the strengths of your game?
I can't give that away! I have an all court game, I like to use all areas of the court. I can counterpunch, I like to serve and volley sometimes. I love offense. I'm pretty much a variety player. I'm only 5'4" but I use my height to my advantage.

If you could steal a shot from another player, what would it be?
Federer's slice.

Favorite surface?
Right now, I probably have to say red clay.

Do you have a favorite tournament?
That's a tough question. I've really enjoyed every tournament I've been to. The Grand Slams are obviously the cream of the crop.

Did you have a tennis idol when you were growing up?
Steffi Graf. I met her when I was five years old.

What are your goals in tennis?
Right now, my short term goal would be to get into the second week at the rest of the Slams this year - and reach Top 75 by the end of the year.

Being one of the top US prospects, do you feel pressure to fill the void that one day will be left by the Williams sisters?
I don't feel pressure at all, being a member of the post-Williams generation. They are still the two highest-ranked Americans, so I wouldn't say we are through with seeing them.

What do you like to do to relax?
I'm a big writer… I love to write. I'm actually blogging right now for the USTA. I also love to read, especially crime fiction. And whatever city I'm in I'll try to go to the main part and see what's around and what it's all about. And actually one of my favorite things is getting my nails done. On the pro tour some tournaments provide that as one of the services for the players and that's nice. So are the massages that you get at the WTA and Grand Slam events! You can't really go wrong with getting massages and your nails done.

What non-tennis skill would you like to have?
To be a master at the piano. I taught myself to play some, but I'm not Mozart yet! I like a lot of classical music.

If you had to describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
Awesome. No, just kidding! Strong.

What qualities do you most appreciate in others?
Honesty, and being on time.

Aside from family and friends, what's your most treasured possession?
My iPad.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could have one luxury with you, what would you choose?

If not tennis…
I could see myself being a writer.

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