May 28, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
Irina Falconi won again Thursday, which at face value was not news. She does that quite a bit.
Georgia Tech fans may smile at the thought of the sophomore advancing to the final 16 of the NCAA singles tournament. The Yellow Jacket, however, may have given herself a belly ache.
Her family is traveling from Jupiter, Fla., to see her play, which is very big news. They don’t get to do that much at all. They’ve seen the No. 1-ranked college player in action once this season — when Tech played at Miami. That, in fact, was the first time Falconi’s father had seen her play in about six years.
Wait! Hold your warm and fuzzy thoughts for a moment.
“They’re driving Friday night,” Falconi said some time after defeating Northwestern’s Samantha Murray 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday at the University of Georgia after falling behind in both sets and then winning the final five games in each. ” They’ll be here for the Saturday match.”
A writer furrowed his brow and thought a moment through an awkward pause. “No pressure,” Falconi said before the writer could ask.
In order to play before her mother, father and sister Saturday, in order to reward their long drive from South Florida, Falconi first has to win Friday.
Dad’s a custom woodworker, mom is a case worker in a law office, and Falconi’s older sister stays busy doing several things. “They couldn’t get off [Friday],” she said of her family.
Carlos Falconi is betting that his daughter on Friday will win her 23rd consecutive match. The family has played tennis odds before, moving from upper Manhattan when Irina was 14 to the fertile tennis grounds around Palm Beach.
“My dad wanted a better life. We had been in an apartment, and the idea of having a house and not having to look for parking for three hours in the middle of the night appealed to him,” she said. “And obviously I was pretty successful with my tennis career and he wanted to expand that. Florida is like the tennis capital of the world.”
The family move has worked out well on multiple levels.
Irina has been ranked No. 1 most of this school year, in which she is 39-2.
In Florida she began working with former pro tennis player Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, who peaked as the No. 9-ranked female player in the world, and associates who are also from the Netherlands.
They all stay in touch.
Falconi’s game has been fabulous most of the season, although in the past several competitions she has often started slowly – as she did Thursday against Murray — only to pick up speed as she goes. Hey, despite her overwhelmingly impressive composure, she’s human.
“I feel like definitely it’s a situation where this is the biggest tournament of the year and I’m a little more nervous than I would be for any regular season match . . . but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “It’s a grind time. The sluggish starts . . . it’s just a matter of getting into a rhythm.
“When I move my feet well that makes a shift in my game. That’s when I’m most aggressive. You can see a strut in my walk.”
Falconi and Sasha Krupka were eliminated from the doubles competition Thursday so for her family to see her play, Irina today must beat Washington’s Venise Chan in a match that is to begin at noon. Falconi’s beaten Chan twice this season.
Tech coach Bryan Shelton scouted Chan Thursday. Now, it’s up to Falconi.
“My dad hasn’t able to see me play in six years. I kind of started traveling without him at 14. Whenever I would want them to come [to a tournament], my mom would come, but my dad would have to work,” she said. “He said he would make it to the big one, the U.S. Open (in New York). [Coaches] can only motivate me so much, but I’m the one in my body. I’m the one who has to get my feet moving.”