Challenger Q&A: Fratangelo Wins First Title In Two Years
It was mid-July and Bjorn Fratangelo was struggling mightily to find his confidence and form on the court.
The American was one year removed from a semi-final finish at the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open, his best result on the ATP World Tour. But after tearing his rectus femoris (quadriceps muscle) in May, he would miss the remainder of the clay-court season and, upon return, claimed just two match wins through the end of August.
Fratangelo was forced to dig deep - deeper than he ever had - to rediscover his game and the right mentality both on and off the court. Now, with new coach Andres Alarcon in his corner, the Pittsburgh native is back.
On Sunday, the 25-year-old claimed his third ATP Challenger Tour title, and first in more than two years, with a victory in Fairfield, California. After dropping his opening set of the tournament, Fratangelo would reel off 10 straight to capture the Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship crown. It was capped by a 6-4, 6-3 win over Alex Bolt in the final.
Fratangelo has flipped a 2-12 summer stretch on its head, posting a 14-4 run since the US Open. The resurgent streak has seen him vault to No. 138 in the ATP Rankings, rising 20 spots with his victory in Fairfield.
Victory never tasted so sweet for @BjornFratangelo.After 2.5 years, the 🇺🇸 is back in the winners' circle. The champion in Fairfield, reeling off 10 sets in a row to take the title. pic.twitter.com/FF1pHjYIFb
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) October 14, 2018
The American spoke to Mike Cation following Sunday's final...
Bjorn, you seem pretty relaxed, but you must feel a deep satisfaction after winning your first title in 2.5 years.
This is pretty big. I'm a pretty relaxed individual on and off the court when my mind is right. But this is probably the most emotional victory I've had in my career. I don't get excited about a lot of things, but this one is pretty bittersweet with how my year has gone and how I've been able to turn it around. If a few months ago someone told me I'd be holding a $100k Challenger title, I would have laughed. But here I am and I'm pretty proud of myself.
You and I talked off the record in Binghamton and you told me how low it had gotten for you. You spoke about that in your trophy presentation today. How bad was it and what were the things you were doing that were so negative at the time? How did you change them?
There were a lot of things that contributed to the downward spiral for me. It wasn't really anything personal, but all on-court and tennis related. It started when [my coach] Brad [Stine] left me. I totally understood why he did it, but it was the way he did it that took me by surprise. It left me hanging at the beginning of the year, after what I thought was a great preseason.
I wasn't getting all the results I wanted at the start of the year, but I was still around the Top 100. And things started to look good by the start of the clay-court season. I was up a set on Nikoloz Basilashvili in Madrid qualifying. He's playing some absurd tennis right now. But in that match I tore a muscle in my quad and that set me back. I missed Roland Garros and a bulk of the season where I have my best success.
While I was rehabbing, I started thinking about the first five years of my career and how I had thought they were going to be different. I don't know how much better it could have gone, but I thought it was going to be better. When I was finally healed, I came back to the court without much enthusiasm and energy. I was in a slump emotionally and wasn't getting out of it. I think I lost eight or so matches in a row and I started slipping into a hole. I was not the best person to be around at the time. But I had the support of my parents, coaches from the USTA and Andres who I am working with now, and [my girlfriend] Madison. It was a team effort to get me back from the dead. But I wanted to be helped and it took some time for me to get going.
How do you change the mental side when you're on the court? I was watching you in the summer and it wasn't there. You felt like you were going to lose.
I just started working in a different way. I was still training and putting in the hard yards, but I was doing it with the mentality of getting back to where I should be or higher. Starting with my coach Andres in July, having one singular voice that was just for me and a fresh set of eyes on my game was big. That is, trusting someone new and letting that relationship grow and unfold with a super postitive person. When we started, I wasn't the easiest person to be around and he stuck by it and stayed with me.
This is going to be the first time in a few years where you're not around No. 110 in the year-end ATP Rankings. I imagine that allows you to play more freely, but what is that mindset as you enter these last few indoor weeks in Charlottesville, Knoxville and Champaign?
It is a little bit different and I haven't really thought about that. But now that you mention it, each year I was trying to finish Top 100 and reach the Australian Open main draw, it wasn't necessarily an extra pressure I put on myself. And I think that's how I first and foremost crackd and just broke this year. Three years of being between No. 105-115 made me think what do I need to do?
I thought I was doing everything I can each day to maximize myself and you finish each year the same. I thought I was improving, but on paper it's the same thing. When I cracked, I thought I didn't know what else to do and that I was losing my mind. Everything just started to spiral.
I'm sure at this moment, you're thinking about all those people who were there to support you in July.
For sure. Everyone from Andres to Madison to my mom and dad to Troy Hahn, to Nico Todero, and Peter Lucassen and my trainer Brent Salazar. It was really a team effort to pick me up and get me back to where I am. I wasn't an easy fix and it took some time. These moments are the ones that I'll look back on when things go south again. I'm sure they will, because it's a long career. But I'll have a little more clarity in my head in those moments.