Steven: The last time it happened, tennis players looked like this. Thirty-four years of double-faults and fashion faux-pas went by without an American winner of the French Open junior title in Paris until 18-year-old Bjorn Fratangelo.
So, that was your reaction. You hit the dirt?
Bjorn Fratangelo: Yeah, I didn’t know what to do. You know, you see the pros do it all the time. I figured, why not?
Steven: Why not is right. After winning one of the elite Grand Slams of tennis at age 17, a little celebration never hurt anyone.
That red clay surface in Paris where bjorn won is known to be very tricky and often gives American players problems on the court. But before Bjorn’s recent success on that clay, he was learning the game 4,000 miles from paris in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on a surface that was a little more basic.
Bjorn: This is my house, and we’re going to take you down to the basement where it all began. So, if you guys want to follow me… Yeah. You know, this was my court growing up, 3 and 4 years old. My dad would feed me balls if I missed. And now, I don’t miss much. I’m a little better than I was back then. I’m guessing it was maybe an hour, four or five times a week.
Steven: So, did you ever get bored of doing it down here?
Bjorn: Yes, I did. The deal with my dad was that when we were done, we’d usually have, like, 30 minutes of video games upstairs.
The tape here was for my feet when I was little. I think this was for my backhand here.
Steven: And a Batman symbol painted on the wall by his coach/dad kept his focus in check.
Bjorn: Yeah, he put that there to keep me interested. That was pretty much there to keep me in the game. I mean, you’ve got to like Batman; he saves people!
Steven: His idol may have been Batman but with a name like Bjorn, tennis, and not crime-fighting, just might have been his destiny.
Bjorn: Yeah, it’s unique. Yeah, I’m not Ryan or John or anything like that. Once people can learn how to pronounce it right, it’s better. The Bajorn, the bee-yon.
Steven: However you say it, this Bjorn is named after Swedish tennis legend Bjorn Borg, an 11-time Grand Slam winner. Bjorn Borg was the rival of American tennis great John McEnroe, a 7-time Grand Slam winner himself. John McEnore won the French Open junior title back in 1977, the last American to do so until Bjorn Fratangelo in 2011.
Bjorn: To do that, to become the first American since McEnroe to win that Junior French Open, that means a lot to me, and a lot to American tennis on clay because that’s usually not our surface.
Steven: The win in Paris shot Bjorn straight to the top. He is now the highest ranked American junior at number four in the world. It is safe to say, Batman’s never done that.
If he goes pro, it could land him on the court with today’s versions of Borg and McEnroe, guys like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Bjorn: I really want it, and I’m going to work for it. And I think if I do that then there’s no regrets. And if i don’t make it, I don’t make it, but I’m going to do everything I can to try to be at the top.
Steven: Solid goals to build toward for a guy who started out playing against a pile of bricks.
Bjorn: I started on the wall, and you know the wall never misses, so it’s good practice. And sometimes you kind of stop and take a look around, especially after paris I did. I came down here and I’m like, ‘wow, I came a long way.’ And I really think that I couldn’t have done it without being here.
Steven: Steven Fabian, Channel One News.