FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Venus Williams may have been Willy Pipped today.
After the elder Williams sister pulled out of the tournament with an autoimmune disease, Irena Falconi had her second round match moved from Court 11 to Arthur Ashe Stadium and the 21 year-old New Yorker seized the opportunity.
“When I walked in,” she said, “I was trying to distract everyone that I was drinking water, but I was looking at my environment and really just adapting to what was about to happen. Yeah, I definitely took a second to really look at my surroundings.”
But in the end the young American came through against 14th seed Dominika Cibilkova , 2-6 6-3 7-5.
It was the thrill of a lifetime for the 78th ranked Falconi, who started waving an American flag after her win.
“It was totally out of instinct,” she said. “I have the flag in my bag. It’s a good luck flag that was given to me by my trainer, Kim Wilson. I really felt that it couldn’t have been a more perfect time.”
And maybe Falconi is coming along at the perfect time. So much has been said about the slump American tennis is suffering through that someone like Falconi could easily fill the void. Like Christina McHale this year and Melanie Oudin a few years ago, she can be an up and comer for the US circuit.
It’s something she knows and is sure to tell everyone who listens.
“I’ve heard so much about media talking about American tennis, and I really wanted to portray that there’s a huge wave of American players,” she said. “I have an American coach and trainer, Jeff and Kim Wilson.
“I strongly believe in all that is USA, and I wanted to represent it and show the world that it’s coming. It’s coming. No need to wait any longer.”
If you look at Falconi, she doesn’t look like a typical tennis player. Actually she looks more like your little sister or the girl next door. At 5’4’’, she has thought to have been too short and not the right shape to compete at competitive tennis at a high level. And the braces on her teeth make her look like she’s 15 rather than the legal drinking age.
But all of this drives the Ecuadorian native. She didn’t come from tremendous means with her parents immigrating to the Washington Heights, NY in 1993. And then she moved to Florida in 2004 to perfect her game.
Now just seven years later, the sky’s the limit for this young girl.
“I don’t really think there’s a limit,” Falconi said. “I’ve been told that I’m 5’4″, in case you didn’t know. One thing I did go in there today knowing was that I was taller than my opponent, which was huge.
“I know Justine Henin, she was 5’6″ and she was 1 in the world. I know for a fact if she can do it, why not?”
That’s a question every woman is asking in this Open. Why not? With seeded players getting knocked out all over the place today this may be a year when an up and comer just happens to win the Open.
“Tournament’s not over yet.” she said, “There’s still five other matches to be won. There’s still doubles and mixed. So this is definitely a fortnight. It’s not over yet. I’m just so excited. My team and I are just so excited for what’s to come.”
With an attitude like that, Venus may not be the only player she replaces this week.