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2016 US Open Player to Watch: Irina Falconi

August 31, 2015 -Irina Falconi in action against Samantha Crawford (not pictured) in a women's singles first round match during the 2015 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY. (USTA/Steven Ryan)

Throughout the year, will be taking a look at players who could contend or surprise at this year’s Open. Up now: Irina Falconi, 25, who claimed her first WTA title on the clay of Bogota, Colombia, earlier this month.

The Irina Falconi File

Age: 25
Height: 5-4
Residence: West Palm Beach, Fla.
Current Rank: 67
Career- High Rank: 64 (Sept. 2015)
Best US Open Finish: 3R (2011)

The Baseline

Irina Falconi burst into the Top 100 as a 21-year-old in 2011 – one year after turning pro – on the back of semifinal appearances in Washington D.C., and Vancouver and a surprise run to the third round of the US Open.

The former Georgia Tech star struggled to build on that early momentum, however, returning to the USTA Pro Circuit and slowly building her game and bolstering her ranking. At 5-foot-4, the Ecuador-born American, who learned to play tennis on New York City’s public courts, didn’t have the powerful ground game to contend with this generation’s big baseliners, but she has since found a way to win matches with intelligent point construction, shot variety and a soft touch at the net.

That style has allowed her to stay competitive on most surfaces and against most players. Second-round showings at the Australian Open and US Open in 2015 and a third-round performance at Roland Garros that summer catapulted her back into the Top 100 and helped her achieve a career-best ranking of 64.

Now, Falconi is on the cusp of an even bigger breakthrough. She claimed her first WTA title on the clay of Bogota, Colombia, earlier this month, dropping just two sets in emerging victorious from a field that included world No. 16 Elina Svitolina and fellow Top 100 players and clay-court specialists Teliana Pereira, Mariana Duque-Marino and Lara Arruabarrena.

If she continues to build on her South American success during the European clay-court swing, even an average summer on grass – her weakest surface – could propel Falconi into the Top 50. That would set her up nicely for a summer run during the Emirates Airline US Open Series and make her a very real threat to play into the second week at the 2016 US Open.