On Sunday, Irina Falconi reached a career milestone by capturing her first WTA title in Bogota, Colombia. The No. 5 seed beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, in nearly two hours.
Taking the match on her third match point, the 25-year-old burst into tears.
“It has definitely been an emotional couple of days,” says Falconi. “After what had happened on Saturday in Ecuador, there was definitely a lot of feelings, and a lot of emotions, going through my body.”
The day before, 900 miles south of Bogota in Portoviejo, Ecuador, a magnitude-7.8 earthquake shook Falconi’s hometown, reducing most of it to rubble. The earthquake’s epicenter was roughly 250 miles from Ecuador’s capital city of Quito. The death toll is reported to be over 400, with more than 2,000 injured.
“I play for the United States, but I was born in Ecuador, so I played for them on Sunday,” says Falconi.
The disaster leveled the house Falconi was born in, but luckily none of her relatives in the area were hurt. Her father, Carlos, was visiting Portoviejo at the time.
“Obviously, I got extremely worried,” says Falconi. “My dad was supposed to come and watch me play the final. There was a flight at 6 p.m. from Guayaquil that would have landed in Bogota on Saturday night. But he was unfortunately in Portoviejo, which was where there was the most damage.”
Carlos Falconi has remained in Ecuador to help out in his home country, which is still dealing with aftershocks, a rising death toll and billions of dollars in damage.
“It’s definitely been a bittersweet kind of thing because after I won everybody was asking, ‘How do you feel about Ecuador,’” says Falconi. “How am I supposed to feel? It’s awful. It’s tough to really say, ‘Oh my gosh, I won a WTA title,’ when there’s people dying. So it really puts it in perspective.”
Last November, Falconi returned to Portoviejo for the first time in 10 years, where she was welcomed like a homegrown hero despite her American citizenship. (The former New Yorker and now long-time south Florida resident left Ecuador at the age of four). The city of Portoviejo honored her as the highest ranked Ecuadorian-born WTA player in history.