He’s only 20, but Bjorn Fratangelo already sounds like a tour veteran. After all, the Pittsburgh native has been playing tennis — and building for his pro career — for more than 16 years.
In two years as a pro tennis player, Fratangelo has felt the highs of tournament titles, the lows of losses and injury, and everything that happens in between. He’s traveled to countries all over the world, fought it out against both grizzled vets and eager rookies, and even found some time to feed celery to a rabbit (sorry, Bjorn…we had to).
Earlier this week, Fratangelo wrote an update to USTA Middle States about his experiences as a young professional player, finding his rhythm in 2014, and how watching this year’s French Open is driving him toward success in the coming years. Currently ranked No. 423 in the ITF Tennis World Rankings, he wrote the letter while competing in a Futures event in Italy.
The letter, which can be read in its entirety below, includes some predictions for Roland Garros, and named his pre-tournament favorites.
A former French Open Boys champion (and the first male to win the title since John McEnroe), Fratangelo’s tremendous 2013 season saw him rise nearly 350 spots in the world rankings. He mentions that 2014 hasn’t started in the best way, but he’s since picked things up and is finding his game once again. Fratangelo had a recent boost when he won a men’s Futures event in Tampa in mid-May.
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A Letter from Bjorn
So far this year hasn’t started in the way I hoped. I finished 2013 with a career-high ranking of 292 after starting the year from about 625, and I was excited with the way things were moving. I had a pretty decent year, winning some Futures events, beating guys like a resurgent Robby Ginepri, and making my first semifinals of a challenger in Campinas, Brazil in the fall. I took out another French Open Junior Champion, so I was overall pretty pleased with how things went and I was excited for 2014.
I had a great offseason at the USTA Center in Boca Raton where I currently train, but I was having some foot problems that basically left me out of competition for the first three months of this year. With that, my ranking had dipped a fair bit as I couldn’t defend points, but I’m back and healthy. It was the first injury that really forced me to take time off, and it took a while to find my rhythm again. But I won a future in Tampa two weeks ago and I was happy to gain some momentum. Now I’m playing in Italy.
I have obviously been watching Roland Garros this year. It’s my favorite tournament out there and it was my goal to make the qualifiers this year. It was very doable. I was about 40-50 points away from being in at the start of the year, but injuries are a part of the game. So far, there have been plenty of upsets and I’m not so surprised by it. The French Open always seems to bring out some good tennis in players other than the top guys. I remember David Goffin was a lucky loser and made the 4th round a couple years ago. Soderling taking down Nadal was a shocker and honestly, I don’t think anyone expected me to win the Junior tournament back in 2011. But, conditions can be tough, it can rain and get cold, or it can be hot and dry. You just don’t know until you wake up.
Watching the tournament on TV makes me really hungry to get back there. It’s my favorite place, and not just because I won it. The fans love tennis and they love underdogs (especially French ones). I don’t know if anyone saw the match between Stevie Johnson and Laurent Lokoli, but the atmosphere was unbelievable. I hope the US fans took some notes and will get behind us like that at our US Open this year. Also, the venue is not as big as you would think. It’s small and there are fans on top of fans so it makes for a great atmosphere no matter what court you are on.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been back to Paris since 2011, but I’m working as hard as I can to get back there in the men’s draw. It’s a process though and I’m learning new things every day. I’m still very young (being only 20), but two players from my year in Juniors have cracked the top 100, one being Dominic Thiem, who I beat in the Paris final. He’s playing unreal tennis and has improved so much, and now it’s my turn to play catch-up. It motivates me to see a few of my peers already get there and it also makes it clear that I can get into the top 100, too.
I’ve matured a ton from the 17-year-old who won the Junior French Open. It took me a good year to make my decision to turn pro, which I kind of regret these days. I wish I would have turned pro the next day because it really affected my mind in a negative way. The Europeans and South Americans just move from juniors to seniors without thinking about it, but that isn’t the American way because of our college system.
Congrats to my good buddy Marcos Giron for winning singles this year by the way! But yeah, I dragged out my decision a bit too long. Live and learn, right?
Ok, real quick before I leave, here are my predictions for Roland Garros 2014. On the men’s side, I’m going with none other than Rafa Nadal. I know he’s lost a ton of clay court matches this year (like, all three of them…) but I still can’t see anyone beating him in a “best of five sets” match. I’d love to see a deep run by John Isner though! The clay suits his game perfectly.
On the women’s side, I’m going with Agi Radwanska. Serena is out and that already breaks the draw wide open. I like watching Radwaska play and if there was ever a time for her to win a slam, it’s right now. But, let’s not forget about my fellow Pittsburgher Ali Riske! She’s been playing so well and I couldn’t be happier for her. We were supposed to play mixed doubles at the US Open last year but I had a scheduling mix up and had to leave before the mixed tournament started. (She still reminds me about it to this day…) Hopefully she can have a great French Open!
That’s all from me,