It was a memorable Saturday for 20-year-old Irina Falconi, the former Georgia Tech All-American who easily defeated Canadian Stephanie Dubois in the final round of qualifying to earn her first entry into the U.S. Open main draw.
In fact, make that her first entry into any Grand Slam main draw. And it will be even more memorable if she can build on three qualifying wins by getting a win or two when the Open begins on Monday.
Falconi won 6-3, 6-1 over Dubois, the No. 25 seed, but is the only U.S. woman to qualify, and that won’t sit well with the people who run the USTA Player Development program in Boca Raton, Fla., and Carson, Calif. — the two main training sites.
It may be a big step forward for Falconi, who used two years in college to mature, but it’s a small step back for U.S. women after two Americans (Shenay Perry and Carly Gullikson) qualified at the 2009 Open and three (Alexa Glatch, Kristie Ahn and Perry) in 2008.
Meanwhile, only two American men qualified — No. 22 seed Robert Kendrick, who is ranked 147, and No. 219 Ryan Harrison, who got through his final round of qualifying on Friday. Kendrick on Saturday defeated Tatsuma Ito 6-3, 6-3. It’s the second Slam in a row in which Kendrick has qualified, having won his way into the Wimbledon main draw in June.
The U.S. had a chance for a fourth qualifier, but 32-year-old veteran Kevin Kim was beaten in the final round by Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania by 6-1, 6-3. Like Harrison, Berankis trains at the Bollettieri IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
A year ago, three American men qualified for the Open — Donald Young, Michael Yani and Jesse Witten.
There are 16 qualifiers in both the men’s and women’s tournaments and none of them has had a higher career ranking than onetime wonder teen Mirjana Lucic, who at age 16 had reached No. 11 in the world and who, a year later, was a semifinalist at Wimbledon.
Tall, physically strong even as a teenager, she appeared headed for a heralded career in tennis, but was beset by injuries and personal problems before re-committing to the game a couple years ago.
Now 28 and ranked No. 153, she qualified and is playing her first U.S. Open in eight years.