New York’s Falconi Gets The Big Stage

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Youzhny Moves To Semis After Five Set Classic

The American flag flapped frantically behind a biting wind at the top of Arthur Ashe Stadium while Mikhail Youzhny and Stanislas Wawrinka fought furiously on the court below.

On a day when a wickedly wild wind swirling at high speed made tennis balls bounce as bizarrely around the court as ping pong balls careening crazily inside the glass of lottery hopper, Youzhny effectively exploited the elements and mastered massive fifth-set pressure to advance to his second US Open semifinal with a hard-fought 3-6, 7-6(7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Wawrinka that spanned exactly four hours.

“It was so close,” Youzhny said. “Right now I’m happy because I just finished the match and I win this match. So (it is a) good result, but already you are in semifinal and you still play.  Of course you want more. Anyway, I don’t think now is good result, so I want more.”

The 12th-seeded Russian will face either World No. 1 Rafael Nadal or eighth-seeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in Saturday’s semifinal. The winner of that match will face five-time US Open champion Roger Federer or third-seeded Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.

“He’s No. 1; he won two Grand Slams; he play really, really well; it will be very tough for me,” Youzhny said of Nadal , adding “Of course it’s better to play (Nadal) here (than) on clay.”

New York City has often brought the best out in Youzhny.

Four years ago, Youzhny reached the Flushing Meadows final four, falling to Andy Roddick, 7-6(5), 0-6, 6-7(3), 3-6..

“It was also close, tough match.  I won first set; I easily lost second.  It was tiebreak in third set.  Nobody know what happens if I won this tiebreak,” Youzhny said. “But, you know, it was four years ago.  Now I think it’s another time, and I’m like another player.  I cannot say I am better player now, but it’s another time and other opponent, so everything can happen.”

While the 28-year-old Russian could face an immense challenge against either Nadal or Verdasco, Youzhny is the only man left in the draw who has a win over Nadal at the US Open.

He beat Nadal in four sets in the 2006 US Open quarterfinal. Though Nadal has won seven of 11 meetings with Youzhny, the Russian with the brilliant one-handed backhand has a 4-3 record vs. Nadal on hard courts.

The victory vaults Youzhny back into the world’s top 10 for the first time since February of 2008 when he reached a career-high rank of No. 8.

Playing determined defense in the opening game of the fifth set, Youzhny centered the ball in a long backhand-to-backhand exchange. Finally, Wawrinka made a move to net, Youzhny bending his legs to get low lasered a backhand blast crosscourt to pass the Swiss and break for a 1-0 fifth-set lead. Youzhny worked his way through a deuce game to consolidate for 2-0.

Youzhny fought off a break point in the fourth game when Wawrinka steered a forehand pass up the line wide. But on the second break point, Wawrinka lured Youzhny forward and the Russian lifted a backhand approach beyond the baseline as a fired-up Wawrinka broke back for 2-2.

It proved to be a short-lived as Wawrinka set a backhand wide and Youzhny broke back for 3-2. Working his way out of a 30-all game, Youzhny held for 4-2.

Seeing the match slip away a frustrated Wawrinka smashed his racquet to the court after burying a backhand into the net as Youzhny held at love for 5-3.

A weary Wawrinka was playing with protective adhesive taping on both quads and took an injury time-out to get re-taped midway through the fourth set. Walking slowly behind the baseline between points, Wawrinka looked lethargic as if worn down by the draining duel he had with Sam Querrey in the fourth round. Wawrinka emerged with a 7-6(9), 6-7(5), 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win in that match and it took a toll today.

“I think I gave everything today and I try for sure,” Wawrinka said. “I made some big mistake, but after four hours, you’re really tired. I was tired. So it’s not always easy to think and to play the right drop shots or to play the good point and not to break the racquet.”

Youzhny gained the early break and made it stand up as Wawrinka tried to shorten up the points. After Youzhny blocked a backhand volley winner into the open court  to hold for 5-2, Wawrinka left the court, returned minutes later and relied on some strong serving to hold for 3-5.

Wawrinka pulled a new Head racquet out of his bag, but lost his grip in the ninth game. After slicing a backhand into the net, the Swiss wound up and slammed the racquet to the court. Two points later, Youzhny served out the fourth set to level the match.

Wawrinka burst out to a fast start in the third set, breaking in the second game and holding for a 3-0 lead. Sprinting with his back to the net, Youzhny hit a between the legs shot that seemed to surprise Wawrinka who pushed an easy forehand volley wide as Youzhny got on the board at 1-3.

Maintaining his break lead throughout the set, Wawrinka, who bungled several volleys, was stuck at net. Youzhny had a clean look at a pass, but opted to lob and the wind tossed the backhand lob long giving Wawrinka  second set point. Rearing back, the Swiss slammed a 135 mph ace to take a two set to one lead two hours, 28 minutes into the match.

Serving at 5-6 in the second set, Wawrinka was at 30-all when a Youzhny drive was called deep. He challenged and replay showed the ball clipped the back of the line. It ws an unfortunate call for the Russian as Youzhny had the offensive at that point in the rally. He buried a backhand into net and two points later Wawrinka held to force the tie breaker.

Wawrinka withstood two set points and on Youzhny’s third set point he sliced a backhand that flirted with the top of the tape before settling on his side of the net.

Shrugging that near-miss off, Youzhny curled a crosscourt running forehand pass that eluded Wawrinka’s outstretched racquet for a fourth set point.

That shot prompted Youzhny’s typically non-expressive coach, Boris Sobkin, who can be as stoic as Stonehenge, to leap out of his seat and pump his fist toward Youzhny. Empowered by that shot, Youzhny cornered Wawrinka on the backhand side and beat him with an inside-out forehand winner, leaping in the air in celebration after seizing the one hour, 10-minute second set.

Wawrinka sprinted out to a fast start in the third set, breaking in the second game and holding for a 3-0 lead. Sprinting with his back to the net, Youzhny hit a between the legs shot that seemed to surprised Wawrinka who pushed an easy forehand volley wide as Youzhny got on the board at 1-3.

Richard Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.