PARIS -- Plum native Bjorn Fratangelo became the first American boy since John McEnroe in 1977 to win the junior title at the French Open by defeating Dominic Thiem of Austria, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6, Sunday.
The unseeded Fratangelo broke serve at 6-all when Thiem's backhand sailed wide. He clinched the victory and fell flat on the red dirt after the 14th-seeded Thiem hit a backhand return long on match point.
"I did well to hold my nerve at the end to close it out," the 17-year-old Fratangelo said.
Fratangelo began playing tennis as a 4-year-old and hopes to win major titles like McEnroe, who went on to win Wimbledon three times and the U.S. Open four times.
"It's amazing to follow in his footsteps," Fratangelo said. "Hopefully I'll be competing like him in the men's some day and win Grand Slams like he did."
Ironically, Fratangelo was named after Bjorn Borg because his father admired the Swedish champion, a main rival of McEnroe. Borg won six French Open titles, a record tied by Rafael Nadal Sunday.
Fratangelo had a tennis racket in his hand by the age of 3 and has always been coached by his father, Mario, who had a promising playing career of his own before moving to the United States from Italy at age 12. Bjorn attended St. John the Baptist School in Plum until eighth grade, when he moved to Florida. He will turn 18 on July 19.
Americans don't have a strong reputation for playing well on clay because there are very few opportunities to compete or even practice on the surface.
"I learned really how to slide, how to move well on the surface," Fratangelo said. "It taught me to construct points. Coming from indoor tennis, they just slap the ball one, two, three, point's over.
"But on clay ... it's mental toughness. You really have to grind out the points long and hard, and you have to find other ways instead of just first-strike tennis."
In doubles play, Fratangelo and partner Alexios Halebian were knocked out in the quarterfinals Thursday by eventual champions Andres Artunedo Martinavarr and Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, 6-1, 6-3.
Fratangelo will forgo the grass-court season in order to play in USTA Futures events, such as the Men's Futures of Pittsburgh, July 4-10 at Mt. Lebanon Tennis Center.
"It's amazing to follow in his footsteps."
-- Bjorn Fratangelo, on previous American winner John McEnroe.
First Published June 6, 2011 4:00 AM