What really happens before, during and after the first round of a Slam

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Ranked just outside the Top 100, Irina Falconi extended her stay in Melbourne with a lucrative victory over Xinyun Han. (AP)

On Tuesday, Irina Falconi defeated Xinyun Han of China in the first round of the Australian Open, 6-1, 7-5. This is not new territory for the 26-year-old American, who has reached the second round of the season’s first Slam for the fourth consecutive year. But it remains a feat nonetheless, for a variety of reasons. 

Falconi will face compatriot Nicole Gibbs on Thursday. But first, she breaks down what happens during this busy, nerve-wracking, exciting and intimidating time for professional tennis players: the first round of a Grand Slam tournament.

The Draw

I’ve gotten over my whole “not wanting to know who I play” system. At first, I had a pretty good method to my madness, which was, It shouldn’t matter who I play, I can only take care of my side of the court. But then I realized that, just the same, it doesn’t matter if I know who I play either. Now I can scout, check out notes from previous meetings and feel more prepared. It’s also really tough to avoid the draw around the grounds because that’s all people ask about.

It’s always relieving to not see a seed right off the bat, but at the same time, the first rounds are the best time to get them—look at Shelby Rogers taking out Simona Halep. There’s quite an advantage to be seeded. There’s only been a few times where I’ve been seeded in a WTA tournament, but to know that I don’t have to play a seed until at least the quarters is huge.

The Match

When I’m trying to close out a tight second set after cruising through the first set, all I’m thinking about is first serves on each point. I don’t have a 130 M.P.H. serve, so for me to get my first serve in is an advantage. On Tuesday, especially, I wanted to take care of business because that heat was killer. It’s not easy playing in 90-degree weather.

The Aftermath

My immediate schedule post match goes as follows:

1. Get all my towels and shove them deep in my bag.

2. Sadly say no to the fans that want the towels.

3. Have my boyfriend grab my bag while I hug my friends and family that are here.

4. Head to the gym to do a cool down and stretch.

5. Eat.

6. Get treatment with a physio.

7. Do press.

8. Recover in the cold tub.

9. Head home and chill with Bailey (my housing family's dog) and often times eat some Indian food for dinner.

The Day Between

On my day between matches, I’ll just have one early hit. I’ll get some treatment in—maybe even some pampering at the Dove beauty bar—get a massage, eat some food and have my racquets strung. I’ll do some gym work in between, and then get home to relax and watch some tennis. My weakness is watching tennis all day, so I have to make sure I watch from the comfort of my own bed. While I'm relaxing, I also make sure to wear my recovery compression pants to speed up recovery. I've been using them for a couple of years and I don't go anywhere without them. 

Depending on when I play, I’ll get to the site a couple hours before for my gym warm-up. Then I’ll do my match warm-up, eat a snack before my match, and wait around and chill until I get called.

When I’m in a Slam, I’m in constant competition mode. I am just ready to play, ready to go at a moment’s notice. So there’s not much to do between winning the first round and my next match, due to the fact that there’s no magic practice that is going to change much in my game in just a day’s length.

The Payoff

Comparing a Grand Slam win to a WTA win is difficult, because I try and see every single match as just another match, whether it’s in the qualifying of an ITF Pro Circuit $25,000 or the third round of a major. At the end of the day, the biggest difference between the two wins is the money that is on the line. At the Slams you’re competing for so much more. For example, at Indian Wells, you will get around $20k for winning a first-round match, whereas in Melbourne, you pocket just over $60k.

Grand Slam consistency means more money for my retirement. I’m the kind of player that if I get $100k, I’ll save about $92k of it. I’ll wire it to my sister Stephanie, who is a Morgan Stanley financial advisor, and she does her job with it. For me, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

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