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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fratangelo, Jabeur Take French Junior Titles

Bjorn Fratangelo hadn't won a junior slam match prior to the 2011 French Open, losing in the first round of the US Open in 2009 and 2010, the only other junior slams he's played. On Sunday in Paris, Fratangelo became the first American boy since John McEnroe in 1977 to claim the Roland Garros boys singles title when he defeated No. 14 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria 3-6, 6-3, 8-6. Ninth seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, the 2010 French Open girls finalist, beat No. 5 seed Monica Puig of Puerto Rico 7-6(8), 6-1 to become the first junior slam champion from that country.

Fratangelo and Thiem had not played, with the 17-year-old American relying on Mitchell Krueger, who lost to Thiem in the second round, for a scouting report on his opponent. It took a set for Fratangelo process it and gather his own information, but he took a 4-0 lead in the second set and after being broken in the fifth game of that set, Fratangelo held his serve the rest of the way.

Deep into the final set, Fratangelo began to get chances to break Thiem's serve. At 4-4, Thiem saved two break points in the four-deuce game, and saved another serving at 5-5. Serving at 5-6, Fratangelo came as close as he would come to losing his serve, but at 30-30, won the next two points to extend the match into extra games. The last time the boys final went beyond 12 games in the third set was 1989 when Fabrice Santoro of France defeated Jared Palmer of the United States 6-3, 3-6, 9-7. This year it was the American who finished with a flourish, breaking Thiem at love and holding at love, reeling off the last ten points of the match to earn the title, his first ITF Grade A.

"I knew if I could make him work on his serve, then maybe it could possibly break down," Fratangelo said in the tournament transcript. "I think I did well at that, and I did well to hold my nerve at the end to close it out."

Foxsports's Richard Evans, who is in Paris, wrote this article about Fratangelo's win. But a slight correction is in order. Fratangelo is not saying there is a shortage of hard courts in Pittsburgh, which he still calls home. It is in Naples, where he trains throughout the winter months, that Har-Tru is the preferred surface, due to the retirement mecca the area has become.

The AP article about the French junior finals at npr.org contains several photos of the boys action, and the ITF junior site has Susan Mullane's always great celebration and trophy shots accompanying their story.

Rolandgarros.com finally had its first coverage of the juniors today, which included comments from the USTA head of men's tennis Jay Berger. In the excitement of the moment, I think Berger got a little ahead of himself when he is quoted* as saying of Fratangelo, "I think he'll be a great player and will climb to into the top 50 really fast."

*[Note: I spoke with Berger today and he denies saying anything beyond Fratangelo having top 50 potential. He added he knows full well how long it takes for such a climb now. As I tweeted earlier, it is extremely annoying that Roland Garros' website would write junior stories only on the final day, and then misquote a source in the process.]

This win is obviously a huge step for Fratangelo, and by proving he can step up in the most important moments on the sport's biggest stages he has set himself apart from many of his peers. I do not want to rain on anyone's parade here, and I want to make it clear that I'm a big fan of Fratangelo and his game, but almost no one climbs into the top 50 quickly anymore. Here are the current ATP rankings of the past five boys French Open champions:

2006: Martin Klizan (Slovakia) 144
2007: Vlad Ignatic (Belarus) 165
2008: Tsung-Hua Yang (Taiwan) 302
2009: Daniel Berta (Sweden) 793
2010: Agustin Velotti (Argentina) 474

Thirty-four years is a long time from one American champion to the next, and Fratangelo deserves all the accolades he can get for his accomplishment this week. But it borders on uninformed to try to paint him as the savior of American tennis. I know he and his family are too clear-eyed to buy into that hyberbole.

The full transcript of his postmatch press conference can be found here


Congrats! said...

Congrats to bjorn!! Very humble player and definitely deserves this championship. And colette you don't give yourself enough credit as a predictor. If i remember correctly, you said fratangelo could have a deep run in Paris.

John L said...

Bjorn is a solid player and a great junior. Unfortunately that means nothing in the pro's. Not seeing any of the current 18's American males with top 100 chances. Our best chance would be with the females where breaking the top 100 is much easier.

Dominic Frosio said...

Colette, unless you know for certain that Berger was misquoted you shouldn't say that he was. Why take his word over that of the journalist who filed the story? Is it because you assume a foreign journalist would misinterpret what was said by someone speaking English or that their standards are sloppy? Is it because you feel it is more politic to side with Berger? Either way, until you check with the journalist who filed the story you don't know whether an error was made or not. If it wasn't, then you owe them an unreserved apology.

Colette Lewis said...

I have no reason to doubt what Jay Berger told me. I know him, and I don't know the journalist. (Is it you?) The tone of the story and the fact that it starts with an error (Mardy Fish is in the Top 10), didn't impress me with its accuracy.