Former Georgia Tech standout Irina Falconi has been on the Women’s Tennis Association tour for five years, and yet, is just 25 years-old. The former Georgia Tech standout has shown steady progress in her professional career and is starting the 2016 season off competing in both singles and doubles at the 2016 Australian Open, the first grand slam of the 2016 calendar.
Prior to departing for Australia, Falconi, the No. 74-ranked player in the world in singles, took some time out of her schedule to talk with ITA Director of Communications Dan Johnson about life on the WTA tour, traveling with boyfriend, and plans for her post-tennis life.
Question: The 2016 season is upon us. Do you have any goals for this season?
Answer: I’ve been setting goals since I was 14. I’m very goal-oriented. I definitely have some rankings goals I want to achieve, but at the end of the day, I just want to be healthy. There’s so many players out (on tour) grinding through and not at 100 percent. You never will be 100 percent, because there’s always soreness, or you’re tired or not eating great all the time. So, for me, just being healthy and staying sane and finishing my degree. For me, I’m pretty mature for being 25 and I know that there’s a life after tennis. I’m constantly planting seeds for the future and having a good reputation on tour is important to me.
Q: Where are you going to school and what are you getting your degree in?
A: I’m taking online classes at Indiana University through the WTA. The WTA will pay for your classes if you get a C or better. That really does help. I’ll finish up in a year and will be getting a business degree.
Q: Adding another item to your plate, how do you manage it all?
A: I do pretty well with it. When it comes to time management, I have to be very aware. I have a lot of reminders set up on my phone. After this call, I have a quiz for a statistics class that I have to do.
Q: The life of a professional athlete is very demanding. How has your perspective on the sport changed from when you first turned pro?
A: I’ve been on tour for five years. When you first get on tour and realize that you get to travel the world, you’re definitely caught up in that experience. Right away I realized how awesome that is. It’s still awesome, but the travel definitely wears on you. My boyfriend travels with me and if I didn’t have him, I’d go insane. Everybody sees the success, but not the behind-the-scenes. It’s literally planes, trains and automobiles. You hustle to get where you need to go, practice and take care of your health.
I don’t get to see my parents and family very much. Between January and Oct. 31 (2015), I was home for five weeks. Nicole Gibbs had a great post (on Facebook) at the end of the season and her perspective couldn’t have been more precise when it comes to the realities of being on tour.
Q: You mentioned your boyfriend (Travis Hartman) travels with you. He’s also a professional athlete (boxer). In what ways is having a like-minded individual with you on the road a benefit?
A: He’s been traveling with me long enough to understand what I need. He’ll go and wait for me in the hotel and have an ice bath, compression pants, protein shake and whatever else I need ready for me. At the end of the day, I’m the one that does the work, but having him with me to prepare all of that is a huge benefit.
Q: When did you start to realize you were a good tennis player?
A: Growing up, I knew I was good, but didn’t know how good. I played in all the New York tournaments, but when we moved to Florida, it was a different game; a lot of competition. A lot of people didn’t think I’d hold my own and that really drew out the competitive aspect of me. There’s still people today that doubt me. I laugh and say ‘take that’, because at the end of the day I’m going to go out on the court and put that work in to prove them wrong.
Q: Looking back on your time at Georgia Tech, do you have any moments that stand out to you?
A: For sure. There’s matches I played there that I’ll never forget. Playing the match to clinch the ACC Championship against North Carolina is the top one for me. A week before the match, I talked to the girls about how I’d never clinched a match and was always first or second off the court. Sure enough, we get to that match and it comes down to me. I severely sprained my ankle the day before. I won the match and wound up being taken away in a wheelchair. That’s what you live for are those moments.
Q: Did you have a player on the pro tour you looked up to?
A: Martina Hingis is my idol. She has a similar game to me and people tell me I play like her. I wouldn’t mind taking how many slams she has. She’s made a nice living for herself.
Q: I’m sure you’ve had the chance to meet her being on tour. What was that like?
A: The first time I played her was in a World Team Tennis event and the best compliment I received was from her when she told me that she felt like she was playing herself when she played me. That was pretty surreal. She’s a nice, genuine person and I’ve never heard anything bad said about her.