MIDDLETON — Miss New England is posing for a photo with a polar bear advertising bottled water billed as “refreshingly natural.” A colorful parrot is wearing a snorkel mask, boogeying with an oversized lobster to a 2003 song by rap artist Chingy in which “thurr” means there, “hurr” means hair, and the rest means little of anything in particular.
Away from the fray, Irina Falconi sat on the Boston Lobsters bench at Joan Norton Stadium in Middleton’s Ferncroft Country Club, enjoying the spectacle and smiling.
As calculated and methodical as the actual sport may be, World TeamTennis events spout randomness. It is minor league baseball with rackets, the Billboard hits blaring over the loudspeakers between games and an MC — yes there is an MC — named Steve reprimanding fans for being too quiet.
This suits Falconi just fine. With a name out of the film noir genre and a tuft of hair peeking out the back of her baseball cap like a bunny’s tail, she basks in the spontaneity. She lives her life by it.
“It’s very different,” Falconi said. “It’s not the Tour, it’s not junior tournaments, it’s not Wimbledon, where you have to clap with your pinkies. I love the screaming in my face and telling me to win every single point. It’s a great atmosphere.”
In the past week, the 22-year-old traveled from the All England grass, where at Wimbledon she fell to second-seeded Victoria Azarenka in straight sets, to the New England hardcourt, where the WiFi password is named after John Isner, plastic GEICO geckos proudly pose on the net, and a mascot called Larry T. Lobster ambles around the concourse, clutching a carnival-sized Wilson racket, seeking support from members of “Crustacean Nation.”
“Yeah, let’s go with random,” Falconi said.
At one point, the MC nicknamed her “The Razor.” Falconi mimicked a scooter ride in response, scraping her pink sneakers on the DecoTurf court and revving her wrists, which elicited cheers from the crowd and the clang-clang of a lone cowbell.
“She’s very bright, which is always great to work with,” coach Bud Schultz said. “She’s got a great work ethic, and she loves the team aspect.”
Back at Georgia Tech, where she was a two-time All-American and made the NCAA quarterfinals as the tournament’s top overall seed, Falconi was called “The Little Tiger.” The New York Times once likened her speedy pace and powerful legs to a bulldog. Even the mammalian comparisons are all over the place, which is fitting for her personality.
“I can totally start talking about anything under the sun,” Falconi said. “I’ve never had lobster before. If you want something random, I can throw that at you. Throw me something random.”
Silence from the reporter.
“Too slow, now I’m bored,” she said. “You’ve got to have 10 things ready in your head, ready to go. Like I really like the smell of nail polish. See? Random.”
Falconi joined the Lobsters late last season, and reached the US Open’s third round and a career-high ranking of No. 73 in singles in 2011. Alongside Carly Gullickson-Eagle, she won her women’s doubles match Monday night against Sacramento’s Asia Muhammad and Yasmin Schnack. Following halftime — yes, there is a halftime too — she teamed up with Eric Butorac to win mixed doubles, then clinched a 20-14 Boston win in women’s singles.
“What people don’t see is tennis players grinding away at it, and you’ve got an hour and a half in front of people, so that’s the time to put on the show,” Schultz said. “I think they all thrive on it, and I think her personality really comes out.
“She gets out here, she feels like all that competitiveness can come out of every pore on her body. Just really fun to be around.”
After the match, Falconi sat at a table beside her teammates, signing autographs for the children who waited to meet the pros, while the B-52’s song “Rock Lobster” played over the speakers, and nearby Larry T. Lobster struggled to grip a Sharpie in his red foam claw.