Plum's tennis star Bjorn Frantangelo started in basement
Plum native Bjorn Fratangelo holds the trophy after winning the boy's singles final match in the French Open Sunday at the Roland Garros Stadium in Paris.
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After gazing intently at a ball from opponent Dominic Thiem that landed wide of the boundary line, Bjorn Fratangelo exhaled in joy and landed -- back first -- on the Parisian dirt in triumph.
The young man named after Swedish tennis great Bjorn Borg had just accomplished what no American had done since Borg's rival John McEnroe in 1977 -- he had won the boys junior singles title at the French Open.
The 17-year-old Plum native, who entered the tournament unseeded, outlasted Thiem, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6, Sunday, to make history not only for American tennis, but also for his developing career.
"I had a great week and it feels good to follow in [McEnroe's] footsteps," Fratangelo said. "I went into Paris with the expectation of winning one match, and once I did that, I just kept going.
"One match turned into two, two into three, and before I knew it, I was in the championship."
Fratangelo's march to the title included wins against two ranked opponents, No. 4 Oliver Golding of Great Britain in the tournament quarterfinals and No. 11 Joris De Loore of Brazil in the third round.
Both wins came in straight sets. A victory against France's Tristan Lamasine in the semifinals set up Fratangelo's final pairing, and ultimate triumph, against Thiem of Austria.
But while his historic win in France represents the highlight of his career thus far, Fratangelo's playing days had humble origins in the basement of the tennis world -- literally.
The basement at Fratangelo's home in Plum had a wall that was perfect for Bjorn to hit tennis balls against beginning at age 3. Mario, his father and coach, who Bjorn said "developed me into what I am today," would place tape on the ground to show him proper stance and footwork.
By age 4, Bjorn had developed enough that he had to move from the basement to outdoor courts.
With his father alongside, Bjorn began to hone his game, showing signs of promise and potential despite some physical shortcomings.
"At the beginning, you're looking for a kid to have fun, and as things moved forward and progressed, it got a little more serious," Mario said of his son's early development. "He wasn't what you would call a natural athlete -- his movement was stuttered and slow.
"But he had hand-eye coordination from the get-go and he had the ability to read the court well."
Those hours spent with his father refining his game helped Bjorn evolve into the player he is today. But as Bjorn acknowledged, practicing in Pittsburgh, where competing for limited space and time at indoor courts is standard, also helped him grow and improve.
"I always had to make the most out of my practices and doing that really helped me focus," Bjorn said. "Only having two hours of practice time, it taught me how to be disciplined and how to push myself in tight situations."
Bjorn attended St. John the Baptist School in Plum through the eighth grade before moving to Florida where he attended and played tennis for Barron Collier High School in Naples. While he is in training, Bjorn intends to continue taking online courses through Barron Collier until he graduates next year.
This summer, Bjorn will be participate in several USTA Futures events, including the U.S. Open juniors and the Men's Futures of Pittsburgh, the latter of which will be played in early July at the Mt. Lebanon Tennis Center.
Mario acknowledged that the next year and a half will have a large bearing on his son's tennis career. Bjorn is planning to play college tennis, with several top national programs having already expressed interest in him. However, his father noted that if Bjorn achieves a world ranking in the range of 250-300, they might reevaluate his options and considering turning pro.
Even with the historic win in France, Mario and Bjorn realize there are critical steps that still need to be completed in Bjorn's promising career.
"[The junior title] is an important step, but it's still a junior," Mario said. "In the long haul, this is another steppingstone to a bigger picture, and if he wants to make it in the long haul, there's a lot of work that needs to be done."
First Published June 9, 2011 12:00 am