by Nina Pantic
NEW YORK—At the northern tip of Manhattan, where the A train creeps into its very last stop, is the intersection of Seaman Avenue and 207th Street. For Irina Falconi, the 73rd-ranked tennis player in the world, it’s also an intersection of the past and present.
“This was my entire life,” Falconi says, pausing to gaze at the well-worn public courts of Inwood Hill Park.
On Wednesday, the 25-year-old will play on perhaps the most pristine court in New York City when she faces Venus Williams inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Twenty years earlier, she was learning the game in Inwood, whose courts Falconi could see from the third floor of the apartment building she lived in.
Born in Portoviejo, Ecuador, the Falconi family moved to New York City when Irina was still a toddler. She remembers dropping water balloons from that third-story window, and learning piano at a neighbor’s house. She also remembers a pit bull chained to a nearby fence snapped down on her hand when she got too close.