2012 CitiOpen Interview: Irina Falconi and Coach Jeff Wilson
Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
Jeff Wilson is an accomplished coach who has done a lot for former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket and Tennis East Coast favorite Irina Falconi. Less than a week ago, he took veteran South African player Chanelle Scheepers under his wing as well.
The most striking part of the interview is how much Irina has changed over the last year. Though she may sound ebulliently youthful on her WTA blog, The Eyes of Irina, she has grown so much since last summer at the Inaugural CitiOpen at College Park. The eyes of the world were on her at the US Open and she’s become an all-around veteran at managing media. Here’s Jeff and Irina on focus, training and Scheepers.
It seems like you learn so much in the first two sets with your new doubles partner that by the time you get to the superbreaker, it’s already over.
My partner and I definitely come out aggressive and know what our intention is. We know our game plan in the third set. We like to play under pressure a little bit, when it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.
What about that crazy scoreline against Melanie Oudin where you two got bageled in the first set, then went on to win 10-1 in the breaker?
Honestly, I think they came out firing and we weren’t full gear and ready to go just yet. Once we got Jeff out there, he told us the game plan. It was just a matter of executing.
Have you learned a thing or two from your veteran partner Scheepers?
Very much so. Not only on the court but off the court, what she does with her food, fitness and stretching, she’s taught me all that.
Jeff, you’ve been coaching Chanelle Scheepers for how long now?
(checks watch) Since Sunday. Five days now.
What’s your summer itinerary, Irina?
I’m going to Montreal, hopefully take a week off, then Dallas and the US Open.
What changes have you made since I last saw you in Charleston, Coach?
Irina’s been on the road straight since mid-April. She was in Europe for 11 weeks with out a break, so we haven’t had much time to invest. We’re looking for some pockets in the schedule so we can rest her body. It will be a good opportunity to give her body a break. She’s extremely healthy because of the way she takes care of her body. The way she stretches, the way she prepares, the way she eats. We haven’t been able to invest in changes per se, other than the usual clay court to grass, and grass to hard court mentality. We’re looking forward to giving her a bit of a breather from having to wake up and doing all that.
Irina, All that blogging. How do you do it?
On my Ipad…
Your blogging has proved that you have a future in communications. Do you see yourself as a commentator some day?
For sure. I could definitely do that.
I’ve definitely experienced the heat. We”re staying at an absolutely great hotel. It’s difficult with the time being so late with the matches, but I’ve loved it so far.
How’d you like that rooftop bar at the old Hotel Washington downtown?
It was awesome.
Isn’t the summer heat just as bad in Washington as it is in Atlanta?
JW: Hotlanta is called Hotlanta for a reason.
2012 CitiOpen Interview: Chanelle Scheepers
Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
Chanelle Scheepers tripled up this week with new coach Jeff Wilson and Irina Falconi. The South African veteran had just booked a spot into the WTA CitiOpen doubles final along with Falconi when she gave us some time at the players lounge on Thursday.
You have a new coach as of, Sunday? What made you go with Jeff Wilson?
I was looking for a while. What I really liked about him is that he’s really positive and we’ve known him for a very long time. For me, it’s really important to have someone who is positive, so that’s why I went with him.
You also have a new doubles partner in Irina Falconi.
We actually played at Wimbledon and we played really well. It just made sense that since we played well and we have the same coach, to try and play more tournaments together.
Didn’t you play in a doubles final with Abigail Spears?
I pretty much just played with whoever before. I was really focused on my singles before and played doubles if I could get in and at tournaments where I wanted to play. It’s nice to play with someone you can work together on some stuff.
Although you have singles titles, you’re still looking for a doubles title, aren’t you?
It will be nice to get that first doubles one, but we just go out there, try our best and enjoy. I really enjoy playing with Irina. I have a lot of fun.
You two seem to get to know your opponents in the first set, and by the time the super-breaker comes around, it’s almost as if you didn’t even need to play it!
It’s funny that all the matches went that way. We really build momentum through the match. From the beginning, we had a clear sense of what we wanted to do with our plans. As the match progressed, we started playing better and better.
Sweet as a Georgia Peach: Melanie Oudin, @IrinaFalconi Advance to 2nd round of @RolandGarros For 1st Time #RG12
Melanie Oudin and Irina Falconi, two of Tennis East Coast’s favorite players, were both set in for early first round singles matches this morning by Roland Garros schedulers. It meant an early rise on the East Coast for fans, but it also started the French Open in a very good way for American tennis.
Oudin dispatched Johanna Larsson of Sweden 3 and 3, and was clearly elated to notch her first-ever main draw singles win at Roland Garros.
Falconi started slower, but found her form in a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Edina Gallovits-Hall of Romania. She also claimed her first win on the famed ‘terre battue’. Falconi has a date with Sam Stosur in the second round, while Oudin will face the winner of Sara Errani/Casey Dellacqua.
Both players have Georgia connections. Oudin is a Marietta native and Falconi was a Georgia Tech All-American who now lives in Atlanta.
As a fan, I couldn’t have asked for a better start. There are a lot of Americans who wish they could have filled the empty seats at Roland Garros today.
Day 1 winners include Benesova, the Pliskovas, Domachowska, Duque-Marino, Brengle, Craybas, Amanmuradova, Uhlirova, Ormaechea, Rogers, Lucic, Cabeza Candela, Larcher de Brito, Garcia, Hlavackova, Rampre, Chan and Giorgi. Five matches are still being played. More details to follow, including tomorrow’s Order of Play.
If you know a thing or two about this blog, you know that we love Irina Falconi and Jamie Hampton. The Family Circle Cup just got a little better as they have both been awarded main draw wild cards, according to the tournament’s website.
Hampton, a 19-year-old Auburn, Alabama native who used to drive three hours each way every day to train at the Racquet Club of the South in Atlanta, is the subject of a very inspirational story, especially at today’s gas prices.
Irina Falconi, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket/Energizer Bunny, is a compact and competitive player with as much heart as the top 10 combined.
No Family Circle Cup would be complete without Melanie Oudin, who could definitely use a long run into the main draw at a WTA Premier event. She received a qualifying wild card.
They join Hayley Carter, Shelby Rogers, Alison Riske, Grace Min and Maria Sanchez as Family Circle Cup contestants with South Carolina or Georgia connections.
Forget Miami for a moment. Charleston is the real Southern Ball of the WTA.
Last month in Atlanta, eight women competed for a Main Draw Wild Card for the Australian Open. It turns out that three of those competitors will be in the Big Kangaroo Dance after all. Jamie Hampton and Alison Riske both advanced in straight sets yesterday in final qualifying rounds at Melbourne Park.
Up next for Hampton will be Mandy Minella of Luxembourg. Riske will face Urszula Radwanska for starters. Madison Keys will open against Zie Jheng.
Other first-round American women’s matches include Christina McHale taking on Lucie Safarova, Irina Falconi against Alberta Brianti, Betthanie Mattek-Sands against Agnieszka Radwanska, Serena vs. Tamira Paszek, Sloane Stephens against Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Vavs Lepchenko starts against Daniela Hantuchova and Vania King will meet Kateryna Bondarenko.
Falconi and Hampton should definitely be in a position to advance, so Atlanta should have more than one reason to celebrate.
Here’s ten more shots from this month’s Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, Georgia. Until a Tumblr account is opened, there is where the photos will come to rest. And Happy New Year, y’all. Thanks for visiting the site in 2011, and special thanks to experienced bloggers and USTA reps for offering advice. Let’s bump into each other next year. See you in Charleston, Newport, DC, Atlanta, NYC, Charlottesville and Knoxville?
Las Vegas, Nev. (December 28, 2011) – Agent Atleta Ltd. has announced the signing of American professional tennis player Irina Falconi to an agency agreement. Falconi climbed over 100 spots in the WTA rankings in 2011 to finish her first full season on tour amongst the top 80 players in the world.
She reached a career high of No. 73 in October off the strength of a third round appearance at the U.S. Open where she upset No. 14 seed Dominika Cibulkova in the second round on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Falconi, age 21, is expected to be a strong candidate for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in London. Earlier this fall, she claimed a gold medal in singles for the U.S. at the Pan-Am games in Mexico.
Agent Atleta’s Jordan J. Butler will represent Falconi. “Irina is a great person and a special player with an innate feel for the game and a unique ability to expose her opponent’s weaknesses. It will be exciting to see her continued development in 2012 and beyond, and I’m elated to be representing a player of her caliber and personal character,” said Mr. Butler.
Falconi will attempt to qualify at the Auckland and Sydney WTA events before competing at the Australian Open, as one of six American women eligible for direct entry into the main draw. She is coached by Jeff Wilson, a former assistant at Georgia Tech, where Falconi was a two-time All-American before turning pro following her sophomore year in May of 2010.
Fans and media can follow Falconi, who also speaks fluent Spanish, on Twitter @irinafalconi.
About Agent Atleta Ltd.
Agent Atleta Ltd. is an athlete management company based in Las Vegas, Nevada, emphasizing comprehensive representation of professional tennis players. Agent Atleta means “Athlete Agent,” the technically correct term for “sports agent,” because an agent represents the athlete as opposed to the sport. Agent Atleta’s founder and president, Jordan J. Butler, is a certified athlete agent, licensed attorney, and member of the Sports Lawyers Association.
Top seeds Coco Vandeweghe and Alison Riske won with relative ease today, while Madison Keys upset world #141 Jamie Hampton and Gail Brodsky knocked out local favorite Melanie Oudin at the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross, Georgia in Australian Open Wild Card Playoff Quarterfinals matches.
Keys, who was also the #6 seed en route to winning the US Open Wild Card Playoffs in College Park, Maryland over the summer, struggled in the first before edging Hampton 3-6, 6-4, 9-7. That’s 9 games to 7, as no tiebreak is played and the matches are considered Grand Slam qualifiers. Vandeweghe recorded 5 aces in a row en route to a 6-4, 6-4 win over upstart Taylor Townsend. Brooklyn’s Gail Brodsky outlasted Melanie Oudin 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, finishing Oudin’s mediocre season on a sour note. Second seeded Alison Riske had the easiest match of the day by far in double bageling Grace Min.
Taylor Townsend was gracious in defeat and her attitude will win her support going forward. She claimed that she had not even read the USA Today article about her.
Attendance was impressive, especially for an opening round. The sea of fans was in stark contrast to the College Park event, making one wonder if Atlanta might indeed be America’s tennis town. There were unconfirmed reports that tickets are almost sold out for the remainder of the weekend. With the exit of Oudin, Hampton, Townsend and Min, no women with connections to Georgia or Racquet Club of the South are left in the event. Speaking of Georgia connections, Irina Falconi was everywhere today. She stayed for every match and must have posed for 500 photographs with fans. She took a little time to hit when there was a break in the action. It was a perfect chance to test the slow motion video option on the camera. It’s dark. Not Edgar Allen Poe or Morrissey dark, but it should be more interesting during outdoor court season.
On Thursday, we had a great conversation with the First Mother of American Tennis, Patricia Jensen, who is also serving as Director of tournament operations for the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, Georgia next weekend. When we learned that Jensen raised four children who played professional tennis at some point in their lives, doubling our guess, it became clear that she is easily up to the task of organizing a national event with international implications.
Jensen confirmed that USTA Director of Player Development Patrick McEnroe will once again be playing in the WTT Exhibition match on Friday night, and although Courier is not 100% confirmed to play as of the date of the interview, the tournament will set up separate cheering sections for each player. They’re even bringing in the Master of Ceremonies from the Kansas City Explorers and a US Marines Color Guard with US and Australian flags. Finally, there will be the singing of both national anthems to open the ceremonies on Saturday night.
The Player party on Friday night is sponsored and inspired by Outback Steakhouse, and will include decorating the entire banquet room in Aussie flair complete with didgeridoos. Only Australian wines will be served at the event. Unfortunately, Foster’s and Cooper’s will not be served due to other brewer commitments.
The Australian theme is pervasive, and could include kangaroos again on display during kid’s day activities on Saturday. Kid’s day activities are Jensen’s personal favorites. “Last year, we did as much as we could to create a virtual experience in Australia”. An entire ‘Down Under Village’ is once again under construction, and consultation and items will again be provided by the Australian Embassy in Washington and the Australian Business Consulate in Atlanta to authenticize the event.
The Racquet Club of the South will also be the first location outside of Australia to purchase official 2012 Australian Open commemorative posters, It’s a great gift for a tennis fan.
Jensen readily made her case when asked if Atlanta was the “best tennis town” in the United States. “We are the world capital of tennis”, she declared, and noting that Atlanta didn’t even enter itself into the 2010 nationwide contest. Without campaigning, it came in second to Charleston, S.C. “Atlanta has 12 different competitive leagues, 125,000 recreational players and a magazine distribution of 87,000. ALTA is very competitive with the USTA.” It appears the USTA also knows there’s tennis gold in those Georgia hills.
Jensen was diplomatic when asked who would get the biggest cheers at Racquet Club of the South next weekend. Jamie Hampton used to drive from Birmingham, Alabama every day to train at RCS. Although Melanie Oudin may train in Boca Raton as of late, “she will always be from Marietta”. On the men’s side, she expects crowd support for Bobby Reynolds, but notes that “Atlanta loves Jesse Levine and fell in love with Robby Ginepri”.
Though Tennis Maryland won’t be in Norcross until Thursday, there will be interview opportunities with Irina Falconi and Donald Young on Wednesday, with a possible hit with Young and the press. We are truly crushed. If you’re weren’t already, we bet you wish you were going to the Wild Card Playoffs now.