Plum native Fratangelo no longer a tennis unknown

| Monday, July 4, 2011

When Bjorn Fratangelo participated in the 2010 Men's Futures of Pittsburgh & the National Collegiate Clay Court Championships at Mt. Lebanon Tennis Center, he was just another hopeful trying to accumulate wins to improve his ranking.

Now, win or lose as a wild card in the men's singles draw, he is the face of the tournament that opens in earnest Tuesday. Several qualifying matches today will decide the final draw. The men's and women's draws will be announced tonight.

"As far as Pittsburgh tennis goes, I've always been at the top," said Fratangelo, 17, a Plum native who captured the French Open boys singles title last month. "Now people do know me, and it's cool in a way because it's something I'm not used to, but it's nice to have people notice you.

"I can't really worry about that, as nice as it is, because I have to worry about playing my best, and hopefully I'll get more fans."

In defeating Austrian Dominic Thiem, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6, in the French Open boys final, Fratangelo became the first player from the United States to win the title since John McEnroe in 1977 and just the fifth overall.

This week marks the first time he will play competitively since the French Open. Though he is trading Roland Garros' red clay for Mt. Lebanon's bluish-black surface, he feels more of a kinship with the courts here than those overseas.

Like at the French Open, he enters this tournament -- a USTA Pro Circuit event with a $10,000 purse -- as an unseeded player. Some of the top players entered are professionals and likely will end up on the ATP tour.

"After that (French Open) win, I really believe I belong, and I believe that my game can move to the next level," said Fratangelo, who is ineligible for prize money because he is an amateur. "Hopefully, I can do well here for myself and try to get things ready for the ATP tour."

Fratangelo isn't the only player who is using the Men's Futures of Pittsburgh as a stepping stone.

"We've got guys that have played here that are at the top of the rankings," tournament director Dan Hackett said. "Scott Lipsky (who paired with Casey Dellacqua) won the French Open mixed doubles title this year played here four or five years ago, so this tournament does the job."

Fratangelo is a rising senior at Barron Collier High School in Naples, Fla., but takes classes online so he can train. He is ranked No. 1 in the country by the USTA among boys under 18.

He has yet to decide whether to attend college or turn pro after graduation. He received a firsthand look at the life of a professional tennis player and what it takes to compete at that level while in Paris.

"I was there for three weeks with the USTA, and they taught me so much about preparing for each match, practicing, eating the right way, just doing all the right things that make little differences," Fratangelo said. "I hit with the Bryan brothers (Bob and Mike) in Paris just to see how professional they are, and I've learned so much over there that I've changed into a different player and, maybe, a different person."

Still, he's almost more excited at the prospect of playing in the Mt. Lebanon tournament and in an exhibition feature match Tuesday evening.

"Hopefully, some fans will come out and give me some support," Fratangelo said. "It's going to be fun playing in front of the hometown crowd."

"Having him here is great," Hackett said, "and I hope it brings people out."

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