USTA.COM Q&A :
Ashley Marshall | June 5, 2018
Rising American star Bjorn Fratangelo knows he has the all-court skill set to compete with the best players in the world. Now the 24-year-old Pittsburgh native just needs to string results together to start climbing back up the rankings.
USTA.com spoke with 2011 French Open boys' champion Fratangelo about how he plans to get over that mental block, his plans for the grass-court season and his memories of his childhood playing on carpet courts with his father.
USTA.com: How would you evaluate your season so far?
Bjorn Fratangelo: It’s been a little bit of a rough year, in my opinion. Didn’t start out so hot. Starting in Miami, I qualified there, and I really started to feel it during the clay-court season. Then I had to cut it short, when I tore my muscle in my quad in Madrid, so I haven’t played since then.
I’m back in Orlando now, practicing almost at 100 percent. So I hope to get back out there soon.
Barcelona was a good tournament for me. Houston was decent. The beginning of the year was a little bit rough. I didn’t make Australian [Open] main [draw]. I qualified in New York but lost in the first round. Delray [Beach], I lost in qualies. Indian Wells, the same. It hasn’t been the most stellar start, but I feel like once I get healthy, I’m starting to play well, and hopefully I can carry it onto the grass.
USTA.com: What actually happened with your leg in that first-round qualifying match against Nikoloz Basilashvili in Madrid?
Bjorn Fratangelo: I was kind of dealing with it starting in Barcelona. It showed a little bit of swelling, but nothing really to worry about. When I was playing through there and through Estoril, it was bothering me a bit, but nothing to write home about. But then I was playing in Madrid, and it was feeling probably the best it had in about 10 days or so, and I was winning the match, I was playing well, everything was all good. And I went to hit a serve and heard a pop and felt a burning sensation in my quad, and that was pretty much it.
USTA.com: What’s your timeline for rehabbing the quad?
Bjorn Fratangelo: I’m just about good. I’m going to go to Surbiton [a Challenger-level event in Great Britain] tomorrow and just keep testing it. If I have to take one more week, I will. But I’m going to get over there and start practicing on grass. I feel like I’m just about ready. I’m excited and anxious to get back out there and play.
USTA.com: Assuming everything is good, what’s your schedule looking like heading into the grass-court season?
Bjorn Fratangelo: Let’s say everything is all good, I’m starting in Surbiton. Then I’ll play qualifying in s-Hertogenbosch and then qualifying at Queens or Halle, whichever I get into there. Wimbledon qualifying, obviously, then I’ll enter Newport, also.
USTA.com: Assuming you can play the grass-court season and a full hard-court swing, is there anything you think you need to be doing to get out of that 110-120 range, where you’ve been in the rankings the past year or so?
Bjorn Fratangelo: I’ve had this talk with a lot of people at the beginning of the season when I wasn’t doing well. I think at the beginning of the year, it was kind of mental for me, from what you’re talking about, about where my ranking has been the last few years now. I feel like I’ve had some really good results, but I still don’t have much to show for it, in terms of ranking. But I think it’s just day-in and day-out consistency. I’ve beaten a lot of very good players, but maybe the next round or the round after that, for whatever reason, my level drops.
I think that’s what I have to figure out – why that happens and how I can have it not happen. Also getting it out of my mind. It’s been in my mind, and I’m sure other people see it, as well, where I’ve been for the last couple years, kind of been in a standstill, which shows. I’m no worse than 100, 110 in the world, so now I just have to figure out how to go higher. I know I can be higher, so it’s just a matter of doing so.
USTA.com: Is there anything you can do in training with your coaches to get over that hump and get your consistency to where it needs to be?
Bjorn Fratangelo: I really think it depends on me. Everything I’m doing every day is to polish my game and get better in all aspects of my tennis, but I think it’s just a matter of putting results up week in and week out, and that’s where consistency comes into play. I can’t have these little mental lapses through events and through tournaments because they are the rounds that really count to make your ranking progress. One Challenger win or one deep run at a tournament and I’m pretty much where I’d like to be, and then I could go from there. I’m just missing that one result, and once I’m healthy and I get back out there, I can hopefully post it on the board as soon as possible.
USTA.com: That one big win that you’re talking about, like the clay-court win in Savannah in 2016, getting to the final on the hard courts in Champaign last year – how much confidence do those runs give you, and how much can you ride them?
Bjorn Fratangelo: They’re great. I’ve won a few Challengers in my career, and I’ve made the final in a slew of others – big ones, like on clay in Bordeaux, which is a really big Challenger. I made the semis of Newport last year on grass. I made the third round of Winston-Salem, the second round of the [US] Open last year, so I’ve shown myself that I’m capable of doing good things on all surfaces.
If I would have won Champaign, I would have been main draw of Australia. If I had made the finals of Newport, I would have been in the same scenario. I’ve been about a match away a few different times and a few different occasions. If there are a few matches I would have got through, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now, but we are, and these are the things I have to look forward to and see why they’re happening and just progress from there.
USTA.com: When we spoke last year, you talked about improving your first-strike capability and using your live arm to end points on the first couple balls. Is that still a priority for you?
Bjorn Fratangelo: Definitely. Anything I can do to shorten points I’m big on. My game is more of a physical style, and I have to do a lot of running. I’m not the biggest guy, so I don’t have these insane weapons that the other guys do, so I really have to play tennis out there. I’m still working on my first-strike ability. I think my fitness is where it needs to be. It can always improve, but I can honestly say I haven’t lost a match due to poor fitness. That’s a testament to all the work I’ve done over the years. But using my body as more of a weapon, I think it definitely helps.
USTA.com: Training at the USTA National Campus, how beneficial has it been to you that you have access to hard courts, clay courts, weight rooms and physios?
Bjorn Fratangelo: It’s great. All of us here really appreciate what the campus offers to all of us. I don’t think there’s any excuse for the guys or the girls to really not do their best when they train. We have pretty much each and every resource that a lot of other countries do not have. For us, it’s huge to have indoor courts. For us, it’s huge having the red clay and two different types of hard courts outside. It definitely helps.
The red clay was huge for them to do. I think that was something we needed for a lot of years, and they did it, and I think you can see by the results over the clay-court season that Americans have done pretty well this year and last year. We have everything, from physios and strength and conditioning teams to coaches and other players to practice with every day, so there are no complaints from that end.
USTA.com: The National Campus has something for every age and ability, from 60-foot courts for children to those Team USA courts. How different is that from when you were growing up?
Fratangelo: It’s definitely different. Growing up, from when I was 6 years old to maybe 14 years old, I played a lot of indoor tennis. My dad would teach tennis at an indoor club on a carpet surface, so I practiced on carpet every day for a lot of years. When I would be outside, I’d be at high schools if I needed hard courts, and then there are a couple good country clubs on clay where I’m very close friends with a coach that I’d use if I needed clay. [At the National Campus], it’s great for this to be here, where everything is all in one setup. I live 10 minutes away, so for me, it’s easy to come in, do my work and go home. It makes my day a lot less stressful.
USTA.com: Do you still remember your earliest memories as a 4-year-old playing in the basement of your home, marking spots on the floor with tape?
Fratangelo: Yeah, of course. Those are still there in my basement. When I get home, which isn’t that often any more, I go down there and kind of see how far I’ve come and see all the old racquets that I had from my whole life of playing tennis. They’re all still there. I’ve come a long way from growing up in Pittsburgh to where I am now, and I think myself and [fellow professional player] Alison Riske deserve a lot of credit. Pittsburgh’s not a hotbed of tennis, so to have two pretty good players come out of that area I think is pretty special.
Tennis is even smaller now than it was there back when I was growing up, but hopefully if people keep taking an interest in myself and in her, maybe when we’re done playing, we can even give back at home in some way. I think it’s definitely a neat story to see where I’ve come and where I am now.