©Colette Lewis 2010--
Bjorn Fratangelo has an enviable progression going. In January of 2008, he won the 14s Winter Nationals, last year he earned the 16s Clay Court Championship, and with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Greg Andrews in the finals of the USTA Spring Nationals Saturday, the 16-year-old from Pittsburgh now has a gold ball in his first 18s Championship.
For girls champion Danielle Collins, also 16 years old, the gap between gold balls had been considerably longer, dating back to her 12s Clay Court victory in 2006. While the hard-hitting right-hander from St. Petersburg, Fla. no longer resembles the moonballer she was back then, Collins did find that shot useful in her 5-7, 6-0, 6-2 victory over Robin Anderson of Matawan, New Jersey.
"In the 10s and 12s that's all I did, I didn't ever hit the ball hard," Collins said. "Today I was missing a lot, so I thought I'd try to slow down the pace a little bit, maybe try to throw her off with high balls."
Collins' strategy of keeping more balls in play began to produce results in the second set, when Anderson started to show signs of both physical and mental fatigue from her nearly three-hour semifinal win over Krista Hardebeck on Friday.
"In the second set, she started keeping the balls in the court and making me play a lot more shots than I was in the first set," said Anderson, the No. 8 seed.
Collins stuck with that strategy, reeling off nine straight games before Anderson finally held in the fourth game of the final set. By that time, Collins was swinging much more freely, and her devastating backhand was giving Anderson very little chance to go on the offensive. With a 5-1 lead, Collins stepped to the line to finish the match, but quickly lost the first three points of the game, two on unforced errors, and dropped her serve for the first time since the opening set.
"I think I got a little bit nervous," the third-seeded Collins said. "There were some things running through my head. I think the nerves just kicked in at that point. It happens. It would have been nice if I could close it out right away."
With her success rate in breaking Anderson's serve, Collins could anticipate another chance soon, and she got it after Anderson failed to convert her 40-15 lead, and at deuce hit a forehand long. After a long rally on that first match point, Collins tried an ill-advised drop shot against the speedy Anderson and lost the point; on the second match point, Collins hit a backhand long. On the third match point, Collins slammed a ball deep, and Anderson's defensive reply floated long, giving Collins her first national 18s title.
"I finally got a gold ball in the 18s," said an excited Collins, who has been playing in that division for over three years. "It feels pretty good."
Fratangelo remembers playing Andrews a few years ago and losing badly. But it's not the size or the power improvements that Fratangelo credits with his success this week.
"It's handling my nerves," said Fratangelo, who trains in Naples, Fla. during the winter months. "When I was younger, I used to get extremely nervous. But just playing the big matches--Junior Davis Cup (Fratangelo was on the team that finished fifth in the ITF 16-and-under World Team Championships), gave me a lot of confidence just to do my thing and believe in myself."
Neither Andrews nor Fratangelo had lost a set prior to the finals, yet in the first set of the championship match, neither played as if they wanted to win it. Andrews got an early break, then couldn't hold serve, as Fratangelo got a key hold at 4-3 to take command of the set.
"In the beginning I didn't really know what to expect from him," said Fratangelo. "I know he has a great serve and a humongous forehand. I guess we were both a little tight, but then I got loose, felt better out there, and started hitting my shots."
Fratangelo didn't avoid the Andrews forehand, because he didn't want to surrender his primary weapon.
"He has a great forehand, but that's my best shot too," Fratangelo said. "So I wasn't going to be afraid of his. I know he likes to protect the backhand side, and I was trying to open up the court by going to his forehand side."
Andrews admitted that his unfamiliarity with playing in a national final contributed to his loss, as did his inability to hold serve.
"I definitely missed a lot of first serves," said the Richland, Mich. resident, who turned 18 on Friday. "He jumped on my second serve--he's a great returner, and against a player that good you can't be missing that many first serves."
Trailing 5-0 in the second set, Andrews held serve, and saved two match points at 40-15. Fratangelo saved a game point for Andrews with a rare ace, and after a backhand error from Andrews, Fratangelo earned match point number three. After a short rally, Andrews' backhand went wide, and Fratangelo looked over at his family and friends, pumped his first, and proceeded to the net for the handshake.
Now one-for-one in 18s national championships, Fratangelo will continue to play both junior events and Pro Circuit Futures, where he has a specific goal.
"I've been playing a couple so far and haven't had much luck getting through qualies," said Fratangelo, who is named after the Swedish tennis legend. "My goal is just to get one ATP point to start out with. But I'll definitely play I think Clays and for sure Kalamazoo."
In other matches played on Saturday morning, bronze balls went to Emmett Egger and Krista Hardebeck. No. 7 seed Egger defeated No. 17 Asika Isoh 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, while No. 5 seed Hardebeck downed No. 6 seed Whitney Kay 6-1, 6-2. Fifth place in the girls tournament went to No. 2 seed Lilly Kimbell, who defeated No. 15 seed Lynda Xepoleas 6-3, 6-2. Wyatt McCoy, the 10th seed, took fifth place in the boys tournament.
The USTA sportsmanship award recipients were Whitney Kay and Daniil Mamalat.
For complete results, see the TennisLink site.
Dave "Koz" Kozlowski, has daily video reports at indietennis.com. Day six is available now, with the final day's segment scheduled to be available on Sunday morning.
Saturday, March 20, 2010