By Carla Zanoni
MANHATTAN — Inwood-native Irina Falconi won three matches in the qualifying rounds of the U.S. Open last week to reach the main event, but fell to Italian competitor Flavia Pennetta in the first round Monday night.
Falconi lost the first set 2-6 and the second set 1-6.
The 20-year-old started her tennis training on the public courts of Inwood Hill Park as a four-year-old. At age nine she joined the nonprofit City Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that brings tennis to city kids, in its Junior Tennis League following her older sister's footsteps. Both went on to play competitively.
"It's so exciting to see Irina get to this point," City Parks Foundation executive director David Rivel said. "I told my staff today that I would rather watch Irina Falconi in a match than Federer-Nadal in the finals."
Though she moved from Inwood to Florida as a teenager, Falconi hasn't forgotten her roots — and the neighborhood is still more than happy to claim her as their own.
"It was definitely a surreal experience, having the crowd for me, and having a lot of the people I grew up with there cheering me on," Falconi told the New York Times, after becoming the only American woman among the 16 qualifiers. "It was really rewarding."
Former Inwood resident Led Black remembers watching Falconi practice when the two lived at the same Seaman Avenue address back in the 1990s.
"I remember seeing her and her father, who was a former pro soccer player in his native Ecuador, training everyday," Black wrote on his blog Uptown Collective. "It seems all that hard work has paid off."