After over two years in the rough, former Top 70 American Irina Falconi is on her way back up the WTA Rankings. The 24-year-old has moved up over 40 spots in the last twelve months, winning the Australian Open Wild Card Playoff with strong results last fall, and translating that momentum into a bright start to the 2015 season.
“I am super happy with my season so far,” Falconi exclaimed in an exclusive interview with The Tennis Island. “I have gotten a lot of matches already in the last three months, and I cracked the goal of being Top 100 and be in the main draw of the French Open.”
At least, the bubbly American is almost positive about Paris.
“If my calculations are correct, when the deadline comes around, I will be main draw French. That will be such a confidence builder, and it’ll really help me get going on the clay-court block.”
From her blogs to her brain (a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech), Falconi is a bright personality off the court. With a subtler, more all-court game, she prefers to let her racquet do the talking during her matches.
The American’s quiet intensity helped her turn the tables on one WTA Rising Star (Ajla Tomljanovic) and stretch another (Garbiñe Muguruza) to three long sets in the desert of Indian Wells. This week, she qualified for the Miami Open main draw – gritting out a 7-5 final set win over up-and-coming Czech, Denisa Allertova.
“I was really happy with how I played against Muguruza,” Falconi said of the 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 decision against the talented Spaniard. “Granted, I didn’t get the result I wanted, but I definitely have come a long way. In the first round I beat [Tomljanovic], who I had lost to the last two times we played.”
Turning 25 in May, Falconi already feels like one of the old guard, having famously broken through on Arthur Ashe Stadium nearly four years ago with a gutsy win over Dominika Cibulkova.
“I think that the newer faces that are coming up on the Tour are just making the veterans feel more determined to really solidify their place on the Tour and in the Top 100.
“The newcomers really keep us young!”
Falconi’s improvements have hardly gone unnoticed; this summer, she will make a triumphant return to Mylan World Team Tennis. After two seasons away, the American is pleased to be back for the 40th anniversary of Billie Jean King’s co-ed professional league.
“I think that 40 years of anything marks a very great milestone. I know that there are some tournaments that haven’t been going that long, so to be in something so special and part of something that Billie Jean created 40 years ago…it means a lot!”
A two-time Boston Lobster, she was the No. 1 Draft Pick on a team ultimately completed by Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard and three Mylan WTT debutantes in Chase Buchanan, Scott Lipsky, and Arantxa Parra Santonja.
“I think playing for Boston is going to be great! They’re going to be playing at a different site than last time [Manchester Athletic Club], which means there will be more fans and it’ll be a cooler spot to be in and a new place to check off in my travel book!”
Her WTT pedigree and WTA results clearly made her a hot commodity, but Falconi wasn’t expecting to be picked so soon at last week’s Draft.
“It was great to be the No. 1 pick! I didn’t realize that it was going to be that big a deal until everyone started writing me and saying ‘congrats.’ I’m really honored and I’m really happy that I’m playing for Boston.”
Falconi has great memories of her last season as a Lobster; with First Lady Michelle Obama in attendance, the American played spectacular tennis against the Washington Kastles in 2012.
“My absolute favorite memory was playing Venus Williams in front of the First Lady in Washington…and winning that match, 5-0! There were so many memories that were made every time I played, because it was such a new experience for me.”
An avid doubles player, she also enjoyed the “team” element of Mylan WTT, as well.
“It was nice to be in on a team again, because the last time I had been in that kind of atmosphere was in college. It was nice to have those memories come back up too.”
The Boston Lobsters will have a new coach in Jan-Michael Gambill, a former Top 15 player whom Falconi knows well and credits as one of the reasons behind her return to the competition.
“Jan-Michael and I actually go way back so it’s going to be nice to have someone that I know in my corner, and is going to be a great addition to the team! We both see the game the same way and agree on a lot when it comes to playing on the court. The fact that he was a former player and a former Mylan WTT player is also huge, because he will understand what I’m going through, since he’s been through it as well.”
Falconi maintained a healthy blogging presence on the Mylan WTT website, and hopes to document this summer in similar fashion.
“I think that I will probably blog some more, just because of the amount of social impact that I had! There were so many people that came up to me and just said, ‘Thank you for being able to illustrate what it’s like to be on a team at the WTT level!’ There were actually a few players that decided to play once I blogged about it and said how much fun it was. I want to use social media to get even more fans involved with the players and the team.”
The American is excited to get to know and bond with her teammates. When asked about Bouchard and her form of late, Falconi had this to say:
“I think the best advice that I can give would be to just live in the moment! People can get caught up in points and having to defend tournaments and reach certain ranking cut-offs. Those things can really alter your success and even hinder it, because you start focusing on that and not really on just playing tennis and enjoying the sport.”
Falconi hopes a strong summer at Mylan WTT can put her in good stead for this fall; with a lot of points to defend, she aims for a Top 75 finish and a continued perspective on life and the game.
“I know that I am blessed in so many ways, and being able to play a sport and travel around the world is definitely a blessing.”
Irina’s Playlist: Top 5 Artists
- Bruno Mars