Oct. 28, 2009
b>by Jon Cooper
OSR Sting EXTRA
ATLANTA — A question for Irina Falconi following her sensational freshman season: what is she going to do for an encore?
She’s given her answer: Win. A lot.
Riding a hot streak that saw her win nine of her last 12 singles matches last season, Falconi, a 2009 All-American and an All-ACC performer, has yet to lose a set in singles competition this fall.
That’s seven straight matches, including a tough two-setter against Miami’s Laura Vallverdu in the Georgia Tech Invitational in mid-September. Then, five straight wins to roar through the singles bracket at the Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championship a couple of weeks ago.
“Her high level of play is a result of her hard work throughout the summer and throughout the fall,” said women’s assistant Anca Dumitrescu. “Her focus in each practice and her intensity as far as improving her game and her conditioning, that’s what at the base of her performance lately. Her ability to be more disciplined as a player and also move better, I would say she is moving extremely well on the court.”
Falconi, who last lost a set in the U.S. Open qualifiers during the summer, recently found out that she is moving into the big time nationally.
Just before embarking on this week’s challenge, the Puerto Rico 25K Women’s Challenger, she found out that that she had been chosen as one of three players to represent the United States in the fourth annual Master’U BNP Paribas, to be held in Poitiers, France, from Dec. 9-14. The event features eight teams composed of college and university players from around the world. The U.S. team is selected through a joint partnership between the USTA and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Coincidentally, her teammates at the tournament will be Kristy Frilling of Notre Dame and Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee, both of whom Falconi knocked off in the Riviera (Frilling fell 6-4, 6-1, Whoriskey, 6-1, 6-1).
Falconi’s becoming a better player was not as much a matter of keeping her eyes on the prize, as much as keeping them on the court.
“My eyes always used to wander when I would play,” she admitted. “One of the things I realized during the tournament was I was in a completely enclosed mind frame where I was just focused solely on the match. Every single point was taken very seriously. It was just one of those things where I was in a groove, and I was in synch with my tennis mentally, physically. Everything was there.”
In the Riviera, Falconi not only won all 10 sets she played, but in seven of them she dropped two or fewer games, including the final match, where she knocked off Georgia’s Chelsey Gullickson, the tournament’s second seed, 6-2, 6-1.
Her biggest test was in the semifinals against University of Washington junior Venise Chan — a grueling, three-hour match she won 7-5, 7-6 (0-6).
But winning the trophy didn’t come easy.
“I don’t think that the scores really tell the story,” said Dumitrescu. “She was definitely tested. Many of those games could have gone the other way if it wasn’t for her really being focused and raising her level in those key points. I definitely feel there was stiff competition at the tournament and a good experience for her.”
“It was a matter of me getting into competitive mode and knowing that all these players are going to be really good and I was going to have to bring out my best if I wanted to win,” said Falconi, who admitted she liked the atmosphere at the Riviera Tennis Club, where she teamed with Amanda McDowell to win the doubles title in last year’s event.
“It’s one of those things where you feel like the ball is just huge and you feel that no matter what happens, you’re still going to be able to pull it out,” she added. “That’s one of the things I focused on. I can be here for two sets, I can be here for three sets. Just bring it on.”
The tennis world should consider itself warned.