Two days after becoming the first former Georgia Tech women’s player to win a singles match in a grand slam tournament, Irina Falconi made personal history.
Falconi, who turned professional last summer, scored the biggest win of her career Wednesday, coming from one set down to knock out world No. 15 and No. 14 seed Dominika Cibulkova in the second round of the U.S. Open. Falconi won 2-6, 6-3, 7-5. She was down 0-3 and 1-4 in the final set before a patient rally that forced Cibulkova into repeated unforced errors gave her the match.
“That’s the one thing I just focused on, is to never give up until the last point,” Falconi said by phone as she left the USTA National Tennis Center Wednesday evening. “I just had to believe the entire time I wasn’t going to give up.”
Falconi, an All-American at Tech who left last year after her sophomore season, will move on to a third- round matchup with No. 22 seed Sabine Lisicki. She called the victory surreal. Falconi grew up in New York and as a child went to the tournament with her parents. Several childhood friends from school and tennis cheered her on.
On top of that, due to Venus Williams pulling out of the tournament, Falconi’s match was moved from Court 11 to a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium that roared when she completed her comeback. Following the match, she pulled out an American flag that she had in her bag and waved it to the crowd, soaking in the moment.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Falconi, who heard a few shouts of “Go, Jackets!” from the stands. “I needed a couple seconds to really grasp that I had just won a match at Arthur Ashe. It’s unreal.”
Falconi is just the third former Tech woman to play in a grand slam event and the second to make a main draw. Kristi Miller won a doubles match at the U.S. Open in 2005. Amanda McDowell lost in the first round of qualifiying in 2008.
Falconi’s coach, Jeff Wilson, said Falconi will move up from No. 79 in the world to inside the top 70 when the next rankings come out. Wilson, who runs a tennis academy in Alpharetta, met Falconi as a volunteer coach at Tech. They and Wilson’s wife Kim have been together since Falconi turned pro.
After a first-round doubles match with Edina Gallovits-Hall Thursday, she’ll face Lisicki probably on Friday.
Said Falconi, “We are thinking about it already.”