FLUSHING — Irina Falconi was 4 years old when she first started playing tennis. Her older sister, Stephanie, had been taking lessons from their father at Inwood Hill Park and Irina was tired of being left out.
So, Falconi did what any little sibling would do—she picked up a racket and started playing tennis alongside her sister.
"I decided I didn't want her being the only one playing this awesome sport," Falconi, now 22, recalled.
Ranked 111th on the Women's Tennis Association tour, Falconi face off against Russian Olga Puchkova in the first round of the tournament early this week.
The former Georgia Tech tennis star is making her third appearance in the U.S. Open; she lost in the first round in 2010 and advanced to the third round last year.
This year, the Portoviejo, Ecuador native is looking for a deeper run.
"I'm not able to come to New York as much as I like," said Falconi, whose aunts and uncles will be in the stands to cheer her on. "As long as I can possibly stay, I want to. If I could stay for two weeks, that'd be really great."
On the court, Falconi is described as a player with a versatile skill set. Jeff Wilson, Falconi's coach, said that she can excel at the net or at the baseline and on all types of surfaces.
"Whereas some people have one or two things they can do, she can do 20," said Wilson, 42, who also coached Falconi at Georgia Tech before she turned pro. "She can play an all-court game."
Unlike bigger name tennis stars, Falconi receives no endorsements; she plays solely for prize money. And while Falconi, whose big sister is now her financial advisor, feels fiscal pressure, she's trying not to let it get to her.
"I really don't think of it too much," Falconi said. "I try not to because if you're playing well the wins will come and the money will come."