Renowned Names of Roehampton

Tommy Paul in action at Roehampton. Photo courtesy of Ben Rothenberg.

Tommy Paul in action at Roehampton. Photo courtesy of Ben Rothenberg.

A week before the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world is played, 128 players gather for a chance to qualify into Wimbledon. Unlike each of other three major tournaments, Wimbledon’s qualifying matches do not take place on site at the All England Club. In an effort to the protect the grass courts before main draw play begins, all qualifying rounds(including doubles!) are played at a the cozy if not cramped tennis club in Roehampton.

For passionate nerds and diehards, Roehampton is often considered the pinnacle of tennis viewing: there is a fantastic combination of finesse, grinding, choking, and overall drama. Players compete at vastly different stages of their careers; from young guns(#NextGen?) to journeymen, every year there a more than a few great stories that go unnoticed. Before final round qualifying begins Thursday, let’s dig into a few of the more compelling players left in the field. To provide some perspective, we’ll attempt to paint a picture of each player’s style of play, career highlights and realistic potential going forward.

In effect, this list will have no real order, but the best stories will told last.

Franko Skugor(CRO) 

Have your heard of him? This writer had seen Skugor’s name in draws, but never actually watched him hit a ball. After some digging, the Croatian’s story is pretty remarkable. At 28, his two straight set wins have put him into Final Round Qualifying for the first time in his career.(never played main draw) He had played 11 times prior in slam qualifying, with an overall record of 4-11. He has won one challenger title in his career, all the way back in 2010. In recent years he has found some success in doubles, with a career high ranking of 92. Skugor began playing professionally in 2005, and has earned just under $400,000 in prize money in his career.

Based on some youtube searching, it appears that Skugor is a decent player on fast surfaces. His service motion is strange but somewhat effective. His strokes are pretty flat which should help on the grass. His movement does not seem to be…elite.

Realistically, this is the probably the best chance he will ever get to play in major singles draw. He will have his hands full with Gerald Melzer, who possesses a fair amount of talent. Can you imagine waiting 10 years to realize a dream, and then having one match to potentially decide your fate? #Pressure

 

Bjorn Fratangelo(USA)

On the other side of the spectrum, Bjorn Fratangelo could possibly be playing his final year of slam qualifying. After a strong 2015, the 22 year old American has impressed this season, notably taking World #1 Novak Djokovic to three sets in Indian Wells. After earning a Wildcard into the French Open, Fratangelo made good on it and took out Sam Querrey in straight sets. That result, however, was not all too surprising. Clay is Fratangelo’s favorite surface, and he would definitely tell you that Grass is his worst. Typically players like Fratagelo who play with a lot of spin tend to struggle on grass. He picked up a good win over Ryan Harrison(solid on grass) in the first round, and rolled in sets 2 and 3 over Michon.

Here’s a recent interview with Fratangelo in Surbiton: 

Fratangelo recently cracked the top 100 for the first time, and while he currently sits just outside, an FRQ win could serve as a gateway to automatic main draw entries for some time to come. With his new coach Brad Stine, Fratangelo is trending upward quickly, and could be a full time Tour-Level player as soon as this year.

Luke Saville(AUS)

Saville is as much a grass court specialist as there is in the draw. A former Junior no. 1, the Australian won the Wimbledon Junior title in 2011 and was the runner up in 2012. After turning pro, however, Saville has struggled mightily. Some of the small weaknesses in his game have become large holes. His forehand is at times mechanical, and his movement is laborious on other surfaces. But the second he steps back on a grass court, he is dangerous. I still haven’t quite figured out why, but he always seems to look way more confident on the green stuff. He has a good slice, and overall plays very smart on grass. His only main draw win came at Wimbledon in 2014, where he beat now a top 10 player, Dominic Thiem.

He has not lost a match in his career at Wimbledon quallies, and he’ll need to continue that trend if he wants to springboard his career back to where many thought it belonged-the top 100. I would consider him the favorite over Bachinger in FRQ.

Edward Corrie(GBR)

British players in Wimbledon qualifying are always great to watch, and the fans in Roehampton rally behind them strongly. Ed Corrie, 28, is an interesting story; he’s never cracked the top 200. As a WC, Corrie has picked up quality wins over Tommy Paul and Michael Berrer. Corrie was a two time All-American at Texas, and has continued to grind it out on the lower circuits for a few years now. It’s always cool to see the college guys having success on the tour. He has a pretty good serve and forehand, but tends to counterpunch.

Fun fact: he was the guy Darian King was playing before his infamous default in Charlottesville: 

Corrie will have the opportunity of his tennis career in FRQ, as he has never played in a slam main draw. His draw is not bad at all, with Olivetti having just played a marathon, 8-6 in the third match on Wednesday.

Mohamed Safwat(EGY)

These last two names are the most interesting in Roehampton. Safwat pulled off a shocking upset over the talented Georgian Basilashvili in the second round. The Egyptian #1 had never even won a match in slam quallies until this week, no less the main draw. Safwat has played the majority of his tennis on clay courts, and before this week he hadn’t played *ONE* match on grass. Tamer El-Sawy was the last Egyptian player in a grand slam at the 1996 US Open.“It’s such a passion to be participating in such a big tournament. And Wimbledon in Egypt is very big, so that’s the ultimate,” Safwat said after the match.

Here’s a fairly epic (and loud) video of Safwat playing Gulbis in Davis Cup: 
Once again, a win in FRQ would likely change Safwat’s career. The amount of nerves these guys are facing is pretty remarkable, and that’s exactly why it’s great to watch.

Marcus Willis(GBR)

On both a personal and public level, this is by far the best story of Roehampton. Hopefully some of my readers have heard of Willis, who I will now refer to as Cartman for the rest of this piece. Cartman, a nickname from the famous “South Park” character, came about during the U.S. Challenger swing in 2014, when Willis had a fair amount of success, and fired back at the haters on twitter who were commenting on his weight. Cartman is pretty much a complete legend, and one of the funniest guys on the challenger circuit. His ability to make fun of himself is unmatched.

Here’s a taste.

Cartman is an incredible player to watch. No really, he is. His feel around he court is truly incredible. He plays the most deft half volleys, and will slice the opponent to oblivion when he’s on. He’s the definition of crafty, and his serve is left serve is very effective. Obviously movement is not the strongest part of his game, but he anticipates really well and can be extremely frustrating to play against.

Many will forget that Cartman actually started a crowd funding campaign in 2014 labeled, “Willis for Wimbledon”. Willis wrote that playing in the main draw of Wimbledon has always been his childhood dream. Well, he’s one match away. #AllezCartman

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Fratangelo Wins Launceston Challenger, Breaks Top 200

Fratangelo watching from the stands in Melbourne. Photo via; Ben Rothenberg

Fratangelo watching from the stands in Melbourne.  Photo via: Ben Rothenberg

Bjorn Fratangelo had a strong 2014 season. He won five futures titles and reached the quarterfinals of two challengers. The 21 year old finished the year with a career high ranking of 261. Fratangelo’s ranking was just on the border of making the Australian Open Qualifying cut, and when The Tennis Nerds spoke to Fratangelo back in November, the Pittsburgh native seemed pretty confident he would make that cut.

Fast forward to January. Fratangelo flew to Melbourne after a decent week at the challenger in New Caledonia. He practiced with many fellow Americans, including his friend Bradley Klahn. As the days wound down, some players began to withdrawal and Bjorn was getting closer. Finally, the qualifying draw had come out; Fratangelo missed the cut by a mere two spots.

“It was brutal to be two out. It hurt, but in a way it motivated me. I tried to take positives and make it a good training week. To just be around that atmosphere is unbelievable,” Fratangelo told The Tennis Nerds Monday.

Despite missing the cut, Fratangelo stayed in Australia for three more weeks and played two $50,000 Challengers; Burnie and Launceston. He won two matches in Burnie before falling to Alex Bolt in the quarterfinals.

However, Fratangelo’s trip down under was capped by the biggest accomplishment of his professional career, as he won his maiden challenger title in Launceston, defeating a promising 18 year old, Hyeon Chung, 4-6 6-2 7-5.

“This win makes it all worth it. I put in a lot of work in Melbourne and it paid off,” Fratangelo said. “I thought (the final) was a good match from both of us. The ball striking was great. I think the crowd enjoyed it as well.”

Chung is already nearing the top 10o, and had just won the title in Burnie the week prior. The level of play from both, especially in the third set, was incredibly solid. Fratangelo had many chances in the third set, and finally broke serve after a marathon game at 5-5. On one deuce point, the two engaged in a very long exchange that ended with the American receiving some good fortune.

“That crazy drop shot I hit at 5 all got under his skin a bit. That was the luckiest shot I’ve ever hit,” Fratangelo said.

The title earned Fratangelo 80 ranking points, and he soared up the ATP rankings to a career high of #172 Monday. By comparison, in June of 2014, the American was as low at #535. The new ranking gives the American more opportunities to play higher level events.

“The ranking is definitely higher than I thought it would be,” Fratangelo said. “I’m gonna try to ride the wave out where I basically have no points coming off. Im gonna play Indian wells qualifying and then Irving(challenger). Now that I’m up there a bit I wanna keep testing myself against guys close to the top 100.”

Fratangelo’s roommate in Florida is fellow young American Mitchell Krueger, who himself has had a nice start to 2015. You can read our Q&A with Krueger here. Krueger won the doubles title in Launceston with Radu Albot, taking out the team of Hubble/Statham 11-9 in the third set super-tiebreak.

Fratangelo and Krueger have spent a lot of time together through juniors and now professionally.

“We’re like brothers. We’re sarcastic towards each together, and we have fun together,” Fratangelo said. “He’s an easy guy to get along with and live with. He’s helped me a lot as far as traveling goes. He can go for months, where I start to lose it a bit after a few weeks, but traveling with him has made me calm down a lot.”

Full match replay of Launceston Final:

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/5057055/events/3782996/videos/77163414/player?autoPlay=false&height=360&mute=false&width=640

Question and Answer: Bjorn Fratangelo

bjorn

 

Today is a little sad for us at The Tennis Nerds, because for the time being this will be the final portion of our hugely successful Question and Answer series. However, we are also very excited, because this may be our best one yet. Bjorn Fratangelo is a young American who is making strides in his game, and up the rankings. He was a very successful junior, and is now looking to translate that success onto the pro tour. His best results have come this year, and we are all behind him to make it to the top. His answers were awesome; they were articulate and thoughtful, and we would like to thank Bjorn again for doing this with us. Not only do we have great respect for him, we also are huge fans.

Player: Bjorn Fratangelo(USA)

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

Plays: Right-handed(2-handed backhand)

 

Q: You just reached your first ever Semifinal of a challenger in Campinas, Brazil. How has the transition been between futures and challengers and how much progress do you think you’ve made?

A: The transition to challengers from the futures has been a bit difficult for me. I played the whole US summer challenger circuit and didn’t make it out of qualifying. I felt I was playing well but I was playing huge servers and first ball strikers such as Chris Guccione and Fredrick Nielsen, so I never really was able to play real tennis. But all the matches were tight. I also played Sarasota where I was up a set and a break on Tim Smyczek. I felt like my game was right there, but I feel like I’m sustaining that higher level now. Campinas was definitely a small breakthrough for me.

Q: What part of your game has improved the most over the last year or so, and what is your biggest focus improvement-wise right now?

A: The biggest part of my game that has improved over the last year would have to be my fitness. I worked extremely hard last off season and throughout this year on getting stronger and faster. It has paid off big time. I’ve been injury free the whole year and I just feel better out on the court. My biggest focus right now is improving my serve and first ball ability. I love hitting my forehand and I want my serve to be a consistent shot that allows me to hit forehands immediately.

Q: You got a lot of press (deservedly so) after winning the French Open Juniors in 2011. Did you notice a change in the way you were handled or treated after that victory?

A: The French Open completely changed my life. It put me on the map as far as international tennis is concerned. I was always a top US junior but winning a grand slam, especially on clay, put me in a different category. Suddenly, I became a young American hope for the future. I think other players respected me a little more than before and my name became a bit more popular in the tennis world.

Q: Speaking of the French, a lot of your success has come on Clay. I often see you tweet about the US not being as bad as most say they are on that surface. Why do you like the surface so much and do you think the American men are improving on the red dirt?

A: Honestly, I like the red clay just because I think it’s cool(laughing). Ever since I was really little the French open was my favorite tournament to watch. I was obsessed with the color of the court because it looked so different and we don’t have any red clay courts in the US. I grew up playing on har-tru quite a bit and I became very comfortable on the surface. It just feels natural to play on. I think it’s more fun to play on clay. I also think other American men are really improving on the dirt. I know Kudla, Sock, And Williams all made it into the the main draw of Roland Garros this year. I watched John Isner take down Federer in the Davis cup tie on clay. Americans are making a push on clay and I think we’re only going to get better as the years go by.

Q: American Tennis has gotten a lot of negative attention the last couple years or so. You guys are basically judged solely on results. How does that affect you guys? Would positive media coverage change anything?

A: I don’t think any American player likes hearing people in the media talk about American tennis. It gets under my skin to hear some of the comments that are made and I know it makes some other Americans pretty angry too. We can’t help that pretty much four guys win every tour event out there. I know a couple months back, the media loved talking about how no American male was in the top 20 in the rankings. However, Isner was sitting at 21 that week. Tennis has become so global that other countries have been producing great athletes. In the next couple of years, you’re going to see American tennis back on top. Jack (Sock), Stevie (Johnson), and Denis (Kudla) have all cracked the top 100 this year and Rhyne (Williams) and Bradley Klahn are very close as well. Tennys Sandgren is another player in that group that is making a strong push and then following them is someone like Mitchell Krueger and myself. I think people in the media should definitely focus on the up and coming talent the US has and instead of focusing on “how bad” the state of American tennis is right now.

Q: What is something outside of tennis that most people don’t know about you?

A: Well, this was actually something I didn’t know about myself until I started living on my own.. I’m actually a decent cook. When I moved to Boca Raton last November, I was in my own in the food department. I’m Italian and I grew up with both of my parents constantly cooking. I’m not a huge fan of eating out, so when I moved into my apartment, I started cooking for myself, and I’m actually not bad at it. It’s surprisingly something I enjoy doing.

Q: What is your favorite tournament thus far in your career and what is the best restaurant at that tournament?

A: My favorite tournament obviously has to be the French Open. I have some awesome memories that’ll stay with me forever. My favorite restaurant is close to Arc De Triomphe. It’s an Italian restaurant. Sadly, I don’t remember the name of the place.

 

What a great end to a great series! Another thanks to all the guys for talking to us and giving us some great content! We won’t stop here though. We have big plans for the rest of this year and the start of 2014. Thanks to all of our readers, and if you don’t already, make sure you follow us on twitter so you don’t miss anything! @TheTennisNerds