August 28th, 2011
|Inwood was and is a place for youth sports. Growing up in Inwood I built vivid memories of many hours running around Inwood Hill Park. Summers were filled with Inwood Little League baseball, free Wednesday soccer, free tennis, and basketball, all within running distance of each other. I still keep in contact with some of the friends I made back then.
The City Parks Foundation, United States Tennis Association (USTA), and Columbia University offered free tennis instruction for city youth on Inwood’s tennis courts. A typical day learning tennis here would include calisthenics and drills in the morning with games and matches in the afternoon. Throughout the Summer, Inwood would also participate in tennis tournaments around the city. We would play Harlem, Central Park, and teams from all the boroughs. The tournament structure was that all players were separated by sex and individually ranked within their team. They would then play equally ranked players from other teams. I was the top ranked male in Inwood. This may be a braggart statement but it’s more a point of reference because on Inwood’s courts two sisters consistently led the pack.
Stephanie and Irina Falconi could be found playing tennis in Inwood almost every day of the week. The older, Stephanie, was two years younger than me and was easily the dominant youth tennis player in Inwood. Irina, about six years younger than that, was barely the size of a tennis racquet but easily held her own with the older bunch. She was later known as “The Crown Jewel of Inwood“. In a series of ego-crushing losses, the Falconi sisters humiliated my doubles partner and I in front of many locals. We may have been young but I took those matches very seriously. I stopped pursuing tennis after I entered high school but have since keep my ears open for the Falconi name.
In June of 2010, Irina turned pro and was the only American woman to qualify for the U.S. Open. Going into the 2011 U.S. Open, she’s among the top five Americans behind McHale, Mattek-Sands, and the Williams sisters. The Irene-delayed U.S. Open starts tomorrow in New York City with Irina facing off against higher ranked Klara Zakopalova. The match won’t be televised but you can follow it at USOpen.org or on the U.S. Open iPhone/Android apps. Stephanie, played competitively into college but has since moved to Florida.
Irina lost in the first round of last year’s Open but much has changed since then. Inwood and the USA have someone to look out for this year.