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Plum's Bjorn Fratangelo takes another major step forward

| Monday, Aug. 29, 2011

When the U.S. Open tennis tournament begins today, Bjorn Fratangelo will still be at home, waiting for his chance to hit the hardcourt.

He won't be pacing around his living room for long, though. Later in the week, the Plum native will hop a flight to New York and await the Sept. 5 draw to see who he will play in the opening round of the boys' junior division.

"You can't get in there before Saturday because you need a credential and ID, and they don't really hand those out until the day before the tournament," Fratangelo said. "I can't walk on the grounds anyway without that, so there's no point to go early."

When he does finally make it to the tournament, it will be with more fanfare than he is used to. Fratangelo will walk into Arthur Ashe Stadium as the reigning French Open junior division champion and will be playing in his first major since winning that event June 5 as an unseeded entry.

He believes he'll be seeded as high as third, and is preparing for the added attention that will invariably follow him.

"I think I'm going in with more expectations, from myself and from others watching, but I'm still going to take it match by match," Fratangelo said. "When you get into a tournament like this, anyone can beat anyone else. No match is going to be easy, and I have to stay relaxed and calm and play my best tennis."

This will be Fratangelo's second trip to Arthur Ashe Stadium in the past two weeks. He received a surprising wild-card invitation to play in the qualifiers for the men's main draw but was knocked out in the first round, 6-2, 6-2, by South Africa's Fritz Wolmarans.

"I was there for a couple of days and I got to check the courts out," Fratangelo said. "I got a match in and pretty much got destroyed, but he's a top-200 player and knows what he's doing."

Since winning the French Open juniors, Fratangelo has spent most of his summer working on improving his ATP world ranking. In his first tournament after the French Open, the Men's Futures of Pittsburgh, he came in 1,435th in the world. But aided by a second-place finish in the hometown tournament on the Mt. Lebanon clay, he will go into the U.S. Open at No. 789.

No matter how the 18-year-old Fratangelo finishes the tournament, his trip to Flushing Meadow will mark the end of his junior career. He has a year left of high school, and in the next few months will make the decision to either play collegiately -- as an online student at Barron Collier High School in Florida, he is the top-ranked senior in the country by tennisrecruiting.com -- or turn professional.

Losing to Wolmarans showed him he has some work either way. But he won't let that hold him back with another junior major at stake.

"He was bigger than me, and I think I need to bulk up a little bit," Fratangelo said. "But I've been working on things that I need to improve on for next week, and we'll see how things go."

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