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Plum tennis sensation carefully weighing his options

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By Paul Kogut
Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012
 

Plum native and rising tennis star Bjorn Fratangelo was thrilled when he received a phone call in January from Jim Courier, a four-time Grand Slam singles winner.

Courier invited Fratangelo to serve as a practice partner for the United States' premier international team during the week of its match against Switzerland in early February.

Fratangelo couldn't pack his racquet bags fast enough.

"I couldn't say no to that," said Fratangelo, 18, who's in the process of deciding whether to accept a scholarship to one of the top college programs in the country or turn pro.

Fratangelo's family lives in Plum, but he has trained under the tutelage of his father, Mario, in Naples, Fla., during the last four school years. He took classes on-line and graduated early from high school in January.

During the trip to Switzerland from Feb. 4-12, Fratangelo practiced with the U.S. team's players (Mardy Fish, John Isner, Ryan Harrison and Mike Bryan), performed go-fer duties, and picked the brains of those who went the college route first and those who skipped school to join the pro ranks.

The first round of the Davis Cup was in Fribourg, Switzerland, and the U.S. pulled an upset over Roger Federer and the host Swiss, 5-0. The quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will be in different months later this year.

Fratangelo was one of two Juniors players chosen to accompany the U.S. squad to Switzerland.

"It's exceptionally special and a big honor to be asked to go (to help at the Davis Cup)," said Tom Benic, board member of the United States Tennis Association's Allegheny Mountain District. "Then, the United States goes and gets that incredible upset."

Last year, Fratangelo's amateur career took a huge upswing when he became the first American to win the French Open boys singles championship since John McEnroe in 1977. He rose as high as No. 2 in the International Tennis Federation's Junior rankings.

Fratangelo is the top-ranked boy in the class of 2012 by www.tennisrecruiting.net and has many Division I scholarship offers. He's narrowed his choices to Georgia, Ohio State and 2011 NCAA runner-up Virginia. That's if he decides to play in college.

Fratangelo plans to make a decision by April 11, the first day of the NCAA's letter-of-intent signing period.

"Bjorn could go anywhere (in Division I college tennis) and be the top player," Benic said.

While spending time with the U.S.'s Davis Cup team, Fratangelo enjoyed getting advice about his game and the best route to the pros from both sides of the argument.

"Ryan Harrison is a year older than I am," Fratangelo said. "I knew him from Juniors. I know his younger brother pretty well, too. He made the decision to turn pro at 15 years old. Here he is doing what I want to do someday. He said, 'You have to realize when you turn pro, it's your job. It's not just fun anymore.' He thinks it's worth it."

But college tennis still is in the picture, Fratangelo said.

Isner, 26, is one of many players who have proved going to college first isn't a bad idea at all. Isner played four seasons at Georgia and led the Bulldogs to the NCAA title in 2007 before beginning a successful pro career later that year.

"I think my mind is getting made up, but I don't want to say yet in case things change," Fratangelo said. "I'm getting to the point where I want to make a decision. It's been weighing me down recently."

Through Frataneglo's breakthrough 2011 campaign, the right-hander battled a painful shoulder injury, which is remarkable considering his accomplishments.

He had an MRI about half way through last year. He said the test revealed the muscles in his right shoulder "had freezed up" and there was "no internal rotation" and was advised to rest.

Fratangelo said he is now "100 percent" again and plans to compete in two tournaments in Texas over the next couple of weeks.

"I'm pretty motivated," he said. "Hopefully, I'll do well."

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