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

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Question and Answer: Jarmere Jenkins (Part 2)

Jenkins found much success in Australia

Jenkins found success in Australia

Jarmere Jenkins, an NCAA champion at the University of Virginia, talked to us a little over a year ago as he began his journey on the pro tour. You can read that Q&A here. 2014 saw Jenkins go through some incredible highs as well as some forgettable lows. At 24, he cracked the top 200 for the first time, and finished the year at no. 192 in the world. We spoke to Jenkins on a variety of subjects.

The Tennis Nerds: First full year on tour, what stood out to you the most?

Jarmere Jenkins: How important faith, family and friends are. This is a brutal sport to play alone. I’m convinced you can’t do it by yourself. Had it not been for them I would have quit a long time ago.

TTN: Finally the offseason, got any plans?

Jenkins: I’ll be in Boca doing on court with USTA and working on my fitness with Richard Woodruff. Just trying to maximize that time in preparation for Australian Open quallies.

TTN: A large majority of your points came from challengers and futures in Australia, what about that country made you so successful?

Jenkins: I honestly don’t know. I’ve developed some really good relationships over there so it’s kinda like home away from home at this point. Could be because it’s so far away. I know if I lose a match I can’t hop on a plane and be home in a couple hours. Just have to go to work and bring it every single day. Seems to be working.

TTN: You are certainly “earning” your way up the ladder. Other than French Open quallies, you played exclusively ITFs and Challengers. How tough is that?

Jenkins: It’s really tough. But nothing feels better than earning your way up the ladder. I’ve played tournaments where I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. Now I feel like I’m putting in the work and paying my dues to belong.

TTN: Playing off that, prize money at those levels is pretty brutal. ATP site has you at $27K(that’s without your last futures title). You picked up a lot of points, but how do you manage to stay positive when the paychecks are so low?

Jenkins: I’m crazy.

TTN: How prevalent, in your experiences, is match-fixing? Have you seen it/heard about it?

Jenkins:  I receive messages and hate mail about it through my Facebook account. But never from players or coaches. I’ve heard about a couple instances or rumors. But nothing firsthand.

TTN: When we talked last year you said fitness was a key point of focus for your game. How has that progressed?

Jenkins: Yes. I’m stoked that I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’m witnessing my hard work pay off. Credit to my trainer Richard and his impact performance team in Florida. He’s really helped me take my fitness to the next level and I still have so many levels more to improve on.

TTN: You had various fellow American’s traveling to the same tournaments as you throughout the year(Klahn, Krueger etc), how important is it to have friends out there with you?

Jenkins: Very important. We all have the same goals plus I grew up with Klahn. It helps because we push each other in practice everyday to get better. We’re all trying to take American tennis to the top.

TTN: With that futures title, you move up inside the the top 200. Any significance in that?

Jenkins: Yes. Just a tribute to the hard work and sacrifices I’ve made to get there. Definitely wasn’t an easy road but I’m excited and grateful for it. My ultimate goal is much further than that.

TTN: Gotta talk about your EPIC tweet

— what was going through your head at that time?

Jenkins: Tennis is a cruel sport sometimes. Up 6-3,5-3 40-15 serving I tasted the defeat only to have it ripped from me. It was devastating at first and I was crushed. But it lit a fire in me that burned for weeks in Australia and I could easily argue had it not been for that loss I wouldn’t have played so well the following weeks.

TTN: Most in the tennis world have seen your legendary face-plant by now. What kind of reaction have you gotten for that and are you able to laugh about it now?

Jenkins: I’ve always thought it was hilarious. Probably the single most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done. My ex-girlfriend was watching from the sideline. I’m pretty sure that destroyed any chance I’ll ever have of getting back with her! (laughing)

TTN: You built a solid base of points at the end of the year, what does your schedule look like for the start of 2015?

Jenkins: Noumea challenger. Aussie quallies. Maui challenger. Then back “home” to Australia for some challengers.

TTN: Do you think next year is when you can make the breakthrough to the tour level? You’re not far off now. How hungry are you?

Jenkins: I think 2015 will be a special year for me. I’m all in. I really believe I have something special within me to make the breakthrough. In due time.

The Most Intriguing Tennis Match That Nobody Saw

Jared Donaldson. Daniel Cox. To the average tennis fan, these two names have absolutely no significance whatsoever. In fact, unless you’re a consistent follower of the challenger tour, odds are you’ve never heard of them. They faced off in the round of 16 at the Binghamton challenger wednesday night, and there were, undoubtably, very few watching. Binghamton, a short drive from Ithaca College(I may or may not attend this great institution), is far from a tennis hotbed. Perhaps the most notable/recent sporting occurrence in the area was the Binghamton Mets(New York Mets AA Affiliate) appearing on ESPN’s “Not Top 10.” You get the picture. What unfolded on the sparsely attended center court was nothing short of fascinating.

These two unheralded(and that’s putting it kindly) tennis players are very much the opposite of one another. Cox, a 23 year old from England, is generously measured by the ATP at 5’7, and had been battling predominately on the futures circuit for the last five or so years. He’s won 12 titles at professional tennis’ lowest tier, and because of that, his ranking has improved steadily into the low 200’s. He recently played in the biggest match of his career at Wimbledon, where he took a set off of world no. 37 Jeremy Chardy, before falling in four tight sets. Because his ranking has improved, he can now play challengers on a regular basis, and wednesday he was looking to reach his third challenger quarterfinal of 2014.

Jared Donaldson, in contrast,  is a 17 year old American, who is already 6’2, and still growing. Donaldson, who comes from a wealthy family, is one of a handful of young American juniors to have been touted at a future star. In February of 2013, he contemplated quitting tennis. After consulting with a sports psychologist, he decided against it. Donaldson was the runner up at the 2013 Kalamazoo nationals, and received a wildcard(speaking of wildcards…. read this) into the qualifying draw at the US Open, where he won two matches before falling in the third and final round. Obviously this created a lot of excitement, and rightfully so. The recent struggles that American male tennis players are having is something we hear just about every week, so I won’t babble on about that. Donaldson earned 16 ranking points in his first grand slam appearance, and with that came the opportunity to test the waters at the professional level. Over the last 10 months Jared has performed very well, and coming into wednesday’s encounter, he was on a 16 match winning streak, winning two futures titles and seeing his ranking reach a career high no. 343. He’s the number three ranked 17 year old, behind only Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric.

As I tuned into the stream, with the great Mike Cation on the call, I was vaguely interested. I’m on vacation at the beach, but figured I should watch Donaldson’s match and see how he’s progressed. Yes, I am a tennis nerd.

Cation was also looking forward to seeing how both would perform.

“I was thinking it was going to be one  of those matches where we see quite a few 10-15 stroke rallies. And frankly, I thought Cox was going to have the better end of it because I wasn’t sure if Donaldson could stay in the points long enough,” Cation said.

Early proceedings were dominated by the young American, who quickly jumped out to a 4-1 lead. A plus forehand and a vastly improved backhand were on a full display, with Donaldson hitting winners left and right. There wasn’t really much Cox could do, as Donaldson was dictating the vast majority of points. The two shots that really stood out for Jared were his powerful inside-out forehand, and a flat yet precise backhand down the line. He was hardly pushed on serve, and closed out the first set 6-2.

Cox is pretty much the definition of a grinder, or as he says, a “grafter”. He fights for every ball and tries to extend rallies. The longer it goes, the better for the Brit. Things were not going well for a set and a half, but slowly he was starting to get his foot in the door. At about this point the real drama of the match started to unfold. Donaldson was not happy with more than a few line calls, a fairly normal thing for a 17 year old tennis player. If you watch a junior or college tennis match you will see a lot of complaining and badgering between opponents, but it’s not something you see very often at the pro level, unless your last name is Fognini.

“At the beginning of the second set you could tell Donaldson was getting loose, and he was questioning every call. It did remind me of a juniors match,” Cation said. “You just don’t see that at this level very often. Dan Cox was frustrated because he didn’t have many openings to break and at a certain point he just said ‘stop questioning every call’.”

I watching on a my laptop, and a many of the calls did appear close, but it did seem like every time a ball was close to the line Donaldson was talking to the chair umpire.

For the next few games, the extra-curricular stuff remained relatively quiet, as Donaldson appeared to get Cox’s message. Jared had a few opportunities to break serve late in the second set, but could not convert. At 4-all, he went off the rails. The forehand that had been so effective suddenly couldn’t find the court. Cox broke and served out the set fairly easily. The rallies were starting to get longer, and Cox was now fully into the match, both physically and emotionally. He was the one who was pumping himself up.

The Brit broke to 2-1 in the third set, and then more drama ensued. As Cox served to consolidate the break, he started looking up and gesturing behind the court to Jared’s dad, Courtney Donaldson. Courtney had been clapping after his son was winning points, and that is also very normal. But Cox took exception, and yelled to the senior Donaldson that he shouldn’t be clapping after unforced errors. The one-sided banter ensued for the rest of that game, with Cox the only one engaging.

“I was not expecting anything like that. I would describe Dan as scrappy, but I’ve never seen him verbally engage in that manner during a match. It got ugly,” said Cation, who prefaced his comments by saying he thought that Courtney was not in the wrong.

I spoke to Courtney Donaldson after the match, and he described his perspective on the situation.

“I clapped for a point Jared won, and to be honest I don’t remember a mis-hit or a net chord in the point and I clapped and to be honest so did most of the other people.  It was a long point and I was happy to see Jared win the point and  he took offense.  But I left it at that.  As much as he was spouting off I just looked straight ahead and said nothing. I didn’t want to interject into the match. He was upset and in my opinion was for a lack of a better term un-professional but it is what is is he was in the middle of an intense match and lost his composure,” Donaldson said.

Who was right and who was wrong is really up to you. Brad Gilbert saw Cox on a regular basis from 2006-2008 while at the Lawn Tennis Association(LTA), and described Cox as somebody who was always “a feisty little guy on the court.”

To be honest, after Cox battled through a long service game to hold 3-1, I thought Donaldson would fold. He seemed to be on the edge, and after failing to break back he could have let it all go. But he fought hard, and made the rest of the match very exciting. He had chances to break in two more of Cox’s service games, but just couldn’t find a way to finish at the biggest moments. Cox closed the match out 6-4 in the third, and was very excited about his performance, giving a couple extended fist pumps. The post-match handshake was brief, but clean.

Tennis is a sport that can be intriguing at every level, from recreational to professional, and this match was a great example of that. A look at the scoreline and one would presume that it was just another tennis match, but it wasn’t. Every single point from about the second set on was tense, competitive, and fun. There was drama, high quality tennis, and a little comedy as well. What more could a fan ask for?

For Donaldson, his potential is overwhelming. He has all the tools to be a top player, and it might not be long before we see him at the big leagues. But we have to realize that he is a 17 year old, and he still has a lot of time to grow.

“The whole time I was saying to myself, ‘this is just part of the mental maturity that will certainly come for (Jared)’,” Cation added.

“Jared loves to compete, improve and play tennis. He enjoys the success but doesn’t let it affect his development,” father Courtney said.

As for Cox, he’s on to the quarterfinals, where a very winnable match against Darian King awaits. I hope the few of you who saw the match enjoyed it as much as I did