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Qualifier Irina Falconi takes tough loss to Flavia Pennetta gracefully

It will go down as a first-round loss in her first U.S. Open appearance, but if you count the qualifying tournament to get into the main draw, Irina Falconi actually finished with a 3-1 record after losing to 19th-seeded Italian Flavia Pennetta, 6-2, 6-1 tonight on Court 13.

The charming Falconi, whose family moved to the Bronx when she was four and spent 10 years there before moving to Florida to continue her tennis training, only turned pro in May after being ranked as the top women in college tennis at Georgia Tech. She won an ITF event in Atlanta and reached the semifinals of another in Vancouver.

Falconi's trip to the National Tennis Center was a dream come true because it gave her the chance to see old friends from New York and visit the courts where she grew up playing at Inwood Park in upper Manhattan. The best part was walking onto Court 13 with Pennetta before their match.

"The most exciting thing was walking out and talking with Flavia like we were old pals, and I just met her," Falconi said. "It was an amazing experience."

The worst part was what followed. In her first WTA-level event, Pennetta gave Falconi a beginner's lesson. "In the first game, I felt I came out playing," Falconi said. "I didn't feel tentative. But [Pennetta] really showed me what it takes to be a top-20 player. She kept good focus the whole match. The biggest difference between a top-20 player and myself [ranked 385] is experience and the consistent focuse, getting to that one extra ball. This has been a great learning experience."

If Falconi was disappointed, she didn't show it. She's taking baby steps now toward the pro tour, and if you look at her performances on the ITF circuit, her progress has been steady.

"Absolutely," Falconi said. "I'm really excited to go back home and start working on my game. Tonight was a great way to measure where I am."


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