After winning her third qualifying tournament match on Saturday to make it into the main draw of the U.S. Open, former Bronx resident Irina Falconi took a journey back in time with some New York friends. She took them to visit the tennis courts at Inwood Park in the Morningside Heights section of upper Manhattan.
"I love it there," Falconi said. "It brings back memories, so, it was nice. I wanted to show my friends where I grew up. I'm always going to have a soft spot for it in my heart."
Inwood Park was where Irina's father Carlos, a former pro soccer player who moved his family from Ecuador to New York, took his daughter to teach her the game of tennis from the time she was four years old until the family moved to Florida 10 years later. There was a group of guys that Irina grew up playing with who called her "the crown jewel" because they could see her talent was going to be pro-caliber.
"It was quite something," Falconi said today of her Inwood Park experience. "I pretty much grew up with these guys and would go out every single day with my dad after he was done with work. We would just play sets and play points all the time.
"I was four years old, and I played until I was around 14 with these guys. I grew up with them. I never was accustomed to orthodox tennis. I didn't learn it that way, so, having the variety was something I identified with. I'm not the traditional bang-banger. I can mix it up and vary the plays. I think that just makes it very untraditional."
The U.S. Open represents Falconi's first pro tournament at the WTA level since turning pro in May. But she already has won a tournament in Atlanta and reached the semifinals of another in Vancouver on the ITF circuit for fledgling pros. She meets 19th seed Flavia Pennetta of italy in her first-round match of the Open.