April 14, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

WASHINGTON, D.C. – American Bjorn Fratangelo, a former top-100 player whose career has been derailed cruelly by injuries, had a busy day Sunday.

The 30-year-old has been having a rough time of it lately. Between a severe case of plantar fascitis and the pandemic stoppage, a few years ago, he was finding wins tough to come by. And his ranking plummeted all the way down to No. 695 after he missed seven months, from last year’s US Open through March 2023.

But tennis players being the most stubborn people on the planet, he has kept at it.

And on Sunday at the Mubadala Citi DC Open, it all paid off.

On Saturday – as hot a day as you’ll find on a tennis court – Fratangelo got past countryman and contemporary Mitchell Krueger. Both turned pro in 2012; Fratangelo was the Roland Garros junior boys’ champion the previous year and got to No. 2 in the ITF junior world rankings, while the 29-year-old Krueger got to No. 5 and was a two-time junior Slam semifinalist in 2012.

It was their 14th career meeting, going back a decade to the Futures circuit. And none of those meetings have come in the main draw of an ATP-level or Grand Slam tournament.

It was a tight one, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, after a long day that was further delayed by a massive thunderstorm and the clearing out of the site of all spectators.

And it was Fratangelo’s first match at the ATP level (albeit in qualifying) in a full year, since last year’s D.C. event.

He had a quick turnaround to come back on Sunday to play his final round qualifying match. A win would get him into his first ATP Tour main draw since he qualified in Atlanta – two long years ago.

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But first, court duties

There was work to be done first. Fratangelo was on court as Madison Keys, his longtime partner and brand-new fiancée, practiced with Maria Sakkari ahead of the tournament. Sakkari is the No. 4 seed in the women’s event; Keys is No. 7. So no problem getting their own court.

He shagged balls, offered a few words, whatever was required.

A little later on, Keys returned the favour as she warmed him up for his match against Canadian Alexis Galarneau. This time, they had to share a court.

Galarneau a tough opponent

Galarneau, a 24-year-old Canadian, has had limited experience at the ATP level; his only main draw was as a wild card at the National Bank Open last year. So he had plenty to play for, and he’s at a career-high ranking after winning his first ATP Challenger in Granby a week ago.

It went three tough sets, and three different shirts from Galarneau.

Meanwhile, Keys somehow got the short straw and was the one fetching the drinks and fighting through the crowds to get back to her seat and cheer on her love.

In the end, Fratangelo prevailed, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. He won just four more points than Galarneau did, but he won the right ones.

The emotion on Fratangelo’s face after that victory was worth a thousand words.

It was understated – he seems like an understated guy – but still waters run deep. It doesn’t take much of a soul to see that it was a moment he may well have had doubts would never come again, at his worst moments. He almost seemed in disbelief.

The reward? Fratangelo gets a stadium-court date for a sold-out night session against … Gaël Monfils.

After all it took to get there, you feel like he’ll savour the moment.

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