Quest to Qualify with Irina Falconi: A Jam-Packed Match Day at Roland Garros

Follow American Irina Falconi in this “Quest to Qualify” player blog as she competes in Europe, and now, the French Open qualifying. Currently ranked No. 135 in singles and 72 in doubles, she is now 11-2 in her career in Grand Slam qualifying and looking for another main draw berth in Paris this week. (Catch Parts 1234, and 5, and follow her on Twitter @IrinaFalconi)

After coming to Roland Garros for the last couple of years, I must admit that I really do love the atmosphere here in France. The U.S. Open crowd and fan base for American players in New York is incredible, but you have to give it up for France as well. These fans live and die for their players. Today, I straight up watched a fan cry out of happiness after one of his favorite female players won the match. I mean, what do you even say to that fan if you’re her — “Thank you. Here’s a tissue?” What a unique sight to behold.

Today started out like any other day — just a bit earlier. I’m not the kind of player that has the luxury of allowing herself a ridiculous amount of sleeping hours, but I will spoil myself with 9-10 hours of sleep on occasion when I get the chance. However, today was not one of those lucky days.

This morning, I had David Guetta’s song Titanium wake me up bright and early at 6:40 am. You might be thinking ‘That’s crazy early for a 10 am match!” but let me divulge why I needed to be up that early, and it may not sound so strange afterward.

1. Getting ready: I’m not one to take an hour to get ready in the morning, but I definitely like to take my time before a first round match at a Grand Slam.

2. Breakfast: As some of you may know, breakfast is my most favorite time of the day. I don’t ever go without breakfast and today wasn’t going to be any different. We had a car scheduled for 7:30 am so I wanted to make sure I was at breakfast by 7. Why so early again, you might ask? Well, because the boiling machine that the hotel uses to hard boil eggs is technologically challenged, and it has decided to hard boil eggs in no less than 18 minutes — on a good day. So sure enough, the first day when I prepared a few eggs, I ended up just having embryo on my plate. Ewww, sorry about the visual! I really didn’t enjoy writing that! I’m just going for effect, promise!

3. Traffic: Paris traffic has been voted somewhere in the top 5 of worst in the world, so why wouldn’t I want to make sure I give myself enough time to make it to the club?

4. Getting sorted on site: Anyone that has ever been to the Roland Garros site will attest to the fact that this place is huge. Ok, let me rephrase. It takes a while to get from point A to point B. You literally have to give yourself at least 10 minutes to get from the locker room to your court. And mind you, there are TWO locker rooms. So depending on what court you’re playing, you might have to give yourself more time. So once I got to my locker and picked up my racquets can of balls, it was already 8:10 am.

5. Warm up for the warm up for the warm up: As players we always need to warm up, and even more so when it’s 50 degrees Farenheit (10 degrees Celsius) outside! It was so cold that I needed to give myself at least 20 minutes to warm up for my warm up. Yes, we don’t mess around with our warm-ups.

6. Shower, food, hair: So by now, I have warmed up for 30 minutes, taken the 10 minute walk back to locker room, then showered, changed into new clothing, and finally grabbed some food. Some people don’t like to have too much time in between their warm up and the match (some players even warm up in their match outfits) but I personally love to have a little snack before my match. I go for a light protein shake that gets me going before the match. And last but not least, the hair. You have to make sure your hair looks good, right? My sister, who is with my in Paris this week, went ahead and volunteered to be my personal hairdresser so I just couldn’t refuse her the brush.

7. Warm up again: By now, it’s already been a bit since I was last warm, so I have to warm up AGAIN to make sure I don’t get injured once I go out there in the first game. Trust me, it can happen.

Phew. Well, that was just my morning. Now you see why I woke up so early! 🙂

You would think that after my match win against Julie Coin, things would start to slow down, but alas, you would be wrong. You want to know why? Here we go again!

1. Scouting: It’s very difficult to scout a match when you are both playing at the same time. In my opinion, that’s one of the best rules that the Grand Slams have, because you don’t feel an advantage or disadvantage over another player. Luckily, I was able to go to my opponents’ match and scout their last set to gather a little bit of info for my match.

2. Post-match recovery: I make sure to bike and stretch after my matches, and sometimes I’ll even do a workout if I’m feeling up for it. After at least 20 minutes in the gym, my stomache calls to me and I know it’s time to get some food in me. Not before I shower though.

3. Food, glorious food: I’m sure you’ve heard about protein recovery after a workout and stuff like that, right? Well, same thing here! I try not to let 30 minutes go by before getting some food in me. I was happy to have some chicken, cous cous, and broccoli for lunch — yes, it’s only lunch time!

4. A little extra: After a few more errands, I got my butt back onto the court again. Depending on what the next match brings, sometimes I’ll get back on the court to make sure that I can close the book on a specific something that maybe didn’t feel so great that day, or something that I can improve on. It’s good to know when you get a little more in. A little sense of confidence creeps into your spine.

5. Miscellaneous: After all is said and done, there is still more to do! I met with my amazing sponsors, Babolat and Asics, who just make my career so freakin’ good! Trust me when I tell you that you wouldn’t be able to find Player Representatives better than Seth McKinley and Ryan Broccolo. Totally just name dropped! Boo-yah!

6. Sorting for tomorrow: Just when I think I can go home and get ready for a low key night — BAM! I still have to set up a practice court for the next day, find someone to hit with, get more racquets strung, get transportation to and from the hotel, and … and … and. Wow. I need to just take a breather for a second …

Well my friends, alas! I’m home! Well, this week’s home anyway.



P.S. Here’s a quick video of Court 14 during my match today!

Davis Cup: Colombian Color Coordination

Babolat and Li Ning did a wonderful job bringing together the Colombian Davis Cup as they host the USA at the World Group Play-offs this weekend in Bogota. Santiago Giraldo defeated Sam Querrey 6-2, 6-4, 7-5, in the second rubber and is now serving at 6-5 in the fifth set against Mardy Fish. (The Americans are up 2-1, so Giraldo needs a win to give Colombia a chance to advance.)

More: All the tie info available here.

Yellow, red, and blue: See another shot of Santiago’s crew (Babolat) and doubles player Carlos Salamanca in Li Ning:

Final thoughts from a remarkable tennis event at the XXIX Olympiad…

In honor of the 18 medals that were awarded to tennis players over the weekend in Beijing, I offer 18 quick- and final- thoughts on the Games that exceeded expectations.

1) Both the men’s and women’s doubles gold medal teams were comprised entirely of “singles specialists.” Go figure. There is an old argument that great doubles players or teams would handle great singles players who paired together occasionally. I am not so sure about that. Roger Federer looked mighty formidable out there. There was little that doubles specialists did to disrupt him, and his skill level was obviously superior.

2) If Fernando Gonzalez sincerely did not hear or feel James Blake’s passing shot click off his racquet during their tense third set, then… we should all give him a break. If he has lied about this, then I wish on him six months of severe insomnia where he can grapple with his guilt.

3) Elena Dementieva is the best mover in women’s tennis. Her gold medal in women’s singles confirms her position as the best player to have yet won a major title.

4) The Russian women earned the gold, silver, and bronze medals in singles. There are eight teams that compete in the Fed Cup’s world group each year, and- if they were allowed- Russia has a deep enough talent pool for four completely different teams in this event. Remarkable.

5) Roger Federer’s delight at having won the doubles gold medal was wonderful to behold. He demonstrated more energy and positive emotion during his last three Olympic doubles matches than he has all season in singles.

6) Was the tennis stadium really filled to capacity at 3:30 AM on Friday while the Chinese pair of Yan and Zheng eked out a win over Russian team of Kuznetsova and Safina? If so, this is beyond incredible.

7) Dinara Safina looks like she could become #1 in the world, especially given the uncertainty of the position atop the women’s rankings. Her brother Marat Safin spent nine weeks at #1 on the ATP Tour. If she makes a big run in Flushing Meadows, then she could actually break this Safin family record.

8 ) While the humidity was reportedly thick in Beijing, the air quality and smog became a big non-story for tennis players. Thank goodness.

9) Can you imagine Rafael Nadal living in the Olympic Village? By all accounts, he has had a blast. I have visions of him waking up at dawn to take on all comers in table tennis, grabbing an enormous breakfast, going on a warm-up run with the Spanish track team, racing over to take part in the basketball shoot-around with Pau Gasol, challenging a few wrestlers to a bench pressing contest, trying his luck in archery, followed by an enormous lunch, some beach volleyball practice, a quick tennis match, some ice/treatment/media, an enormous dinner, a quick trip to the Ice Cube for an Individual Medley race against all member of the Spanish contingent, and then eight hours of video games against… all-comers.


10) The despair and sadness etched on Novak Djokovic’s face after losing the semi-final combined with his elation after winning the bronze medal match over Blake were proof positive of how he deeply these players cared about the Olympics.

11) I got a big kick out of the fact that all the players were forced to cover the logos on their racquet and gear bags. If I were representing HEAD, Wilson, Babolat, Prince, Dunlop, then this would have infuriated me. The IOC definitely has a sense of humor!

12) The Williams Sisters will defend their gold medal at the London Games of 2012. They employ tactics – or non-tactics- that distinguish them among the best teams of all-time: See the ball, hit the ball really hard, giggle afterwards.

13) It says here that Mama Lindsay Davenport will compete in the 2012 London Olympics (in doubles).

14) Jimmy Arias did a magnificent job broadcasting the Olympic matches from NYC’s Rockefeller Center building. He is insightful, funny, acutely aware of tactical nuances, and measures his words prudently. Those characteristics differentiate him from the vast majority of announcers. As he has reached the top of the class, he ought to get a chance to work more of the bigger events.

15) I would expect that there were some Olympic medalists (or at least coaches) who were relieved that Juan Martin del Potro was not in Beijing. He is playing like a beast this summer.

16) Chris “Mad Dog” Russo abruptly resigned his post- after 19 years- on the popular “Mike and the Mad Dog” sports talk radio show on WFAN. The Dog was a big tennis fan, an avid player, and he relished discussing big matches on the program that was typically devoted to baseball, football, and basketball. It was always amusing to hear Russo try to pronounce words like “Djokovic” or “Wimbledon” or “statistics.” He will inevitably be back soon, and our sport will be the better for that.

17) I heard Michael Phelps’ being referred to as “the Rafael Nadal of swimming” and it made me laugh. Things change quickly at the top-level of sport.

18) The US Open qualifying event begins Tuesday. The year’s final major will be interesting, as players battle fatigue from a brutal schedule, jet-lag for those returning from Beijing, a wide-open women’s event, and- apparently- the passing of the torch at the top of the men’s game.

A little bit of Italy, a little bit of France…


Move over, Karl Lagerfeld; your Chanel stenciled tennis racquets are no longer the only ones for the glam set. French tennis company Babolat recently announced that they’ve partnered with EA7 — that’s Emporio Armani‘s performance line — to design their own gear. The oversize stick, with its 100-square-inch head, incorporates the brand’s current white/silver/black colorway (which can also be seen on Filippo Volandri, who wears EA7 on the court).

Buy: The racquet is available for $345 at all Emporio Armani stores. And FYI, there is only one grip size (“for medium-sized hands,” said the salesman at the store on Broadway). It also comes with a cover.

Another look: Take a peek at Volandri wearing the Spring 2008 EA7 wear (plus his classy accessories) at last week’s Copa Telmex in Buenos Aires after the cut…