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Bjorn to Win

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Plum native Bjorn Fratanglo, 17, won the junior title at the French Open last weekend, becoming the first American male since John McEnroe in 1977 to win the junior title at Roland Garros. Fratanglo was profiled by Ray Mernagh in the May 2010 issue of the Pittsburgh Sports Report.

Bjorn Borg ruled tennis when tennis was huge.

The headband.

The long—but always neat—blond hair flowing as he ripped another two-handed backhand winner down the line at Wimbledon, leaving frustrated opponents like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors spewing the grass courts of jolly old England with profanity-laced verbal bombs.

And even though Borg has fallen on some difficult times in retirement, today's superstar athletes could take a chapter from his book on how to be cool, while still classy, at all times.

Yes, Borg was unquestionably the man. Heck, from 1974-81 Borg was as iconic as a sports figure could get, winning multiple Grand Slams multiple times in tennis' heyday.

So it makes sense that the United States Tennis Association's No. 1 ranked player in the Boys 16-Under division has the first name Bjorn. Tennis-loving parents were bound to christen their offspring Bjorn just like I'm sure there's plenty of golf-loving kids named Eldrick/Tiger around (how that's working a few years down the road is probably another story).

Equally interesting/disturbing is that the No. 1 ranked player in the USTA's 18-Under division is also named Bjorn... OK, they're the same kid.

But the fact that 16-year-old tennis phenom Bjorn Fratangelo is from Pittsburgh? That might make you do a double-take.

Fratangelo lived in Plum Borough up until two years ago when, right before Bjorn was getting ready to enter high school, the family made the decision to move to the Naples area in Florida. The move was definitely tennis related and an easy choice for a kid with big aspirations in the game.

"There were better kids to play with there," says Fratangelo, "and it allowed me to train in the heat all year round."

Fratangelo 's father Mario, who doubles as his coach, also talked about the Florida climate when discussing the move.

"You can't beat the weather!" he laughed.

You can't beat his kid either, at least not lately, as Fratangelo's results over the past few months have shot him to the top of the rankings in both the 18's and 16's in the States and have him on the verge of breaking into the top 50 in the world (he's currently 57).

When Fratangelo and I first started talking back in the fall, he was excited about having won all four of his matches for the United State's Junior Davis Cup team in Mexico (he played No. 1 singles) and getting to the semi-finals of the National 16's in Kalamazoo last summer. He also had played in the U.S. Open Jr. tournament as a wild card entry but lost in the first round.

"It was still a great experience," said Fratangelo at the time.

He talked about colleges and which ones he liked—Stanford and Georgia even though it was still very early and they couldn't even legally recruit him yet—and he talked about the possibility of playing professionally down the line.

But young Bjorn has, as they say, flipped the script –and done so convincingly—by winning two national titles in the past two months. First was the Spring National Championships in Mobile, Alabama, in March. Fratangelo won the 18's without losing a set, defeating Notre Dame-bound Greg Andrews 6-1; 6-3 in the final.

Next up was the Easter Bowl ITF Nationals in California where Fratangelo beat Nick Chappell 7-6; 6-3 in the final. With those results Fratangelo has achieved the "double-double" of being ranked No.1 in two different age groups.

Fratangelo is an aggressive baseline player with a monster forehand.

"I like to dictate play right from the start," he says. "My forehand is my biggest weapon but I'm working on making my serve and backhand weapons too."

With all his recent success, has Fratangelo put his plans for college on hold?

After all, sponsors have been known to write some awfully big checks to try to convince young tennis players to make the professional jump early. Plus the United States hasn't had many men setting the world on fire in the past few years.

Fratangelo still sounds convinced he was headed to school... kind of.

"No, it's still the same plan to go to college for a few years," he said. "Just going to see where things go, but college first will probably be the decision."

So keep an eye out for Bjorn Fratangelo. This baby-faced kid from Pittsburgh will be playing at Wimbledon, the French and U.S. Open sooner or later.

Based on his recent results, sooner is definitely a good bet.

Maybe we can even get him to start wearing a headband.


Reprinted from The Pittsburgh Sports Report, May 2009.

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