Question and Answer: Mitchell Krueger

Krueger in action at USC.

Krueger in action at USC.

Mitchell Krueger celebrated his 21st birthday back in January, and he did so in style, winning the $15,000 Los Angeles Futures title on the same day he became legally allowed to order an alcoholic drink. Krueger had a successful junior career before turning pro at the age of 18. Now starting his third year on tour, the Dallas-Fort Worth native has reached a career high ranking of 311 in the world, and should move a few spots higher after picking up a win at the Burnie Challenger. The Tennis Nerds spoke with Krueger about his adjustment to life on tour, goals for the future, and much much more.

(Editors note: Make sure you read to the bottom, the quick fire questions at the end are some of the best)

The Tennis Nerds: You’re in Australia AGAIN! You’ve spent quite a bit of time over there the last 12 months. I know you joked it was almost your FIRST home at this point. What goes into your scheduling decisions? Does playing in an English-speaking country make you feel more comfortable? Give the average fan a short breakdown on why you schedule the way you do.

Mitchell Krueger: Yeah I’ve definitely spent a lot of time down in Australia. I honestly think I’ve been there more over the last four months than I have in Florida(laughing).

Well for one, I’m not afraid to travel outside the U.S. and leave my comfort zone a bit. I feel like too many Americans get comfortable just staying within North America and end up limiting themselves. To me, it gets a little tiring playing the same guys each and every tournament. A huge part of being a professional tennis player is enjoying the travel and I think my game benefits from seeing different competition, surfaces, and conditions all the time.

TTN: You started the year with a title at the $15k in LA, beating some strong players in the process. Do you see that result as a springboard for things to come? Does it take some pressure off in the coming weeks knowing you started the year well?

Krueger: That result was definitely huge for my confidence going into the beginning of the year. It’s always a great feeling to win a tournament, and for it to happen so early in the season gives me some added belief that I can really take a big step forward this year. I’m really excited for 2015.

TTN: What was your offseason like this year? Where did you train and what were you focusing on?

Krueger: I actually didn’t have a traditional offseason this year because I ended up playing a tournament in the Dominican Republic right before Christmas. The past two years we’ve always shut it down right around Thanksgiving and had a solid four week training block to get ready for the coming year. But this year I only really had two weeks. I was down in Boca Raton and managed to get some good fitness work in with Pat Etcheberry and court time with my coach Stan Boster. I actually think having such a short offseason helped me continue to play good tennis into the new year because the break between tournaments wasn’t too long.

TTN: Often times when you’re traveling to these tournaments you’ll go with a group of either fellow Americans or other players. Who are your favorite guys to travel with and why? Who provides the most comedic entertainment?

Krueger: I’ve definitely spent the most time traveling with Bjorn(Fratangelo), Brad(Klahn), and Jarmere(Jenkins). We all get along with each other great and know how to push one another to get better. It’s never a dull moment when we’re all together that’s for sure. I mean it’s hard not to give the comedic crown to the guy that has several hundred thousand views on a YouTube video of him face planting on concrete. It made me laugh so hard I started crying the first time I saw it(laughing).

TTN: When I talked to Bjorn(Fratangelo) a couple months ago, he said he had just finished stringing a racket. Do you string any of your own rackets?

Krueger: As much as my mom has begged me to learn, I still don’t know how to string rackets. When I’m training, the absolute last thing I want to do in my free time is string a racket. To me, that extra thirty minutes of sitting on the couch is worth the price of getting it strung by someone else(laughing).

TTN: American men’s tennis has gotten plenty of negative attention in the last few years. Does that motivate you guys? What is your view on the years ahead for American tennis?

Krueger: It’s a huge motivation to me. Very few people that report that kind of stuff actually realize the amount of work and sacrifice that goes into being a world class tennis player. It’s very frustrating when people talk about how Americans just don’t want it bad enough. I think in the next few years these same people will start to eat their words. I’m very optimistic and excited for the future of American men’s tennis. I’ve seen the work that myself and many others have put in, and I know it’s just a matter of time before the rest of the world is able to see it too.

TTN: I know the debate between turning pro or going to college was relevant in your life and it’s been a big talking point lately. Now that you’ve spent a couple years on tour, what are your thoughts looking back on that decision?

Krueger: Obviously being an American, going to college and getting an education is something most kids are taught to strive for from a very young age. I can only speak for myself because everybody’s situation is different. I have absolutely no regrets in my decision to turn pro. The fact that I can wake up every day and devote myself 100% to getting better without any other distractions is amazing. Whenever I’m done playing tennis, I can always go back to school somewhere and get a degree if I want. There’s no age limit. The window for a person to make a living playing tennis is so small when compared to the rest of their life. I’m glad I made the decision to give myself the absolute best chance possible to reach my dreams.

TTN: There was a rather funny twitter exchange where your mental strength was discussed. It’s always seemed like one of the stronger points of your game. Where does that come from? How much did your upbringing and environment influence that?

Krueger: (Laughing) That tweet actually took me a bit by surprise because I seriously consider that one of the strongest aspects of my game. And I take it that Jarmere agrees with me because he actually had my back for once (laughing). I’ve always been insanely competitive in anything I do. I’ve never tanked anything in my entire life. I pride myself on never giving up on anything, whether it’s on court or off. Anyone that knows me can tell you the exact same thing. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew I could’ve given a little bit more effort. Win or lose, I can always rest easy knowing I gave it everything I had.

TTN: Which part of your game are you working on most specifically to improve right now?

Krueger: Right now I’m working mostly on really owning all my shots and understanding the ways I can use my game to win points and matches. Over the last couple years I’ve put a ton of time into strengthening both my serve and my forehand, and I think this next piece will really bring my game together. I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made and I’m excited to keep it going through the rest of 2015 and beyond.

TTN: You’re about to hit a career high ranking just a few spots outside the top 300. What are some of your short and long term goals ranking wise?

Krueger: Well my first really short term goal is to break top 300. After that, my goal is to make qualies of the slams this summer. I’m obviously getting close right now but I don’t like to put too much pressure on myself to hit a certain number. I know if I keep putting in the work and giving myself opportunities each week, I’ll keep moving up the rankings.

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Quick Fire Q’s

Favorite airline?

Krueger: American Airlines all the way. Hit platinum for the second year in a row.

Go-to drink and/or snack on flights?

Krueger: Either water or sprite. Sometimes Apple juice.

Again, on flights–Music, movie, book, or something else?

Krueger: I usually go all three. Movies if it’s a long flight. Music when I’m trying to sleep. And a book if I run out of good movies to watch.

Favorite challenger you’ve played?

Krueger: Gotta be Challenger of Dallas. Can’t go against my home tournament! Maui is a very close second though.

Favorite futures you’ve played?

Krueger: Probably some of the futures in Italy because of the food. Love the pizza.

Dallas Mavericks or Dallas Cowboys?

Krueger: This is tough. Probably gotta say Cowboys just because it’s easier to follow while I’m traveling because of their shorter season. I’ve been to more Mavs games though.

Tony Romo or Demarco Murray?

Krueger: Tony Romo all the way. Screw all the haters.(laughing)

Better NFL prospect: Stefan Kozlov or Nathan Ponwith?

Krueger: Koz probably won’t like this, but I gotta say that Ponwith’s catch off my perfect pass while being defended was a thing of beauty. At this point though, the Dolphins could definitely use Koz on offense. I really hope he reads this. (laughing)

Eat out or cook?

Krueger: Definitely eat out. As Bjorn can vouch for me, living with an Italian for the last few years has made me not want to embarrass myself in the kitchen.

Federer or Nadal?

Krueger: Federer for sure. He’s a GOAT.

 

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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

Question and Answer: Tim Smyczek

TENNIS: AUG 29 US Open

As many of our readers know, Tim Smyczek is one of our favorite players. We were able to support him in his epic third round encounter against Marcel Granollers. He’s done so much for us at The Tennis Nerds, and he’s back again. He is the second American Man in this installment of our Q and A series. He gave us some incredibly good answers and even though it was through email, it was the greatest interview I’ve been apart of. We hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

Player: Tim Smyczek (USA)

Height: 5’9

Current Ranking: 104

Turned Professional: 2006

Q: When you’re playing in front of crowds that are going crazy in support of you, how does it affect you and your game? Does it inspire you? Do you get nervous?

A: I think a supportive crowd can only help you.  It’s inspirational.  I had some great crowds my first two rounds of the Open this year, but nothing could compare to the third round.  From the moment I walked onto the Grandstand I could feel them carrying me.  I told someone last week that I’ve never had to play with goosebumps for so long. They were doing the wave during changeovers, chanting “USA, USA” and “SMY-CZEK.” I had so much adrenaline pumping.  In a long five setter I never felt tired and I was so wired after the match that I don’t think I got to sleep until about 5am.

Q: I recently found out that as a Junior player you often played doubles with your coach, Billy Heiser. First off, that is so cool. Second, how is your relationship with Billy as your coach? Does the fact that you guys competed together in the past help or hurt the way you’re coached?

A: Billy has been my best friend for a long time.  I first played him in a tournament in East Lansing, Michigan when I was 10 or 11 and we had a three set battle.  When we first started working together last summer, it was a little bit difficult to navigate our relationship because we were going from being best friends to player/coach.  I had trouble telling him to do things at first, and I’m sure he struggled with the same things.  But in the long run I think it has helped us to be so close. We’ve gotten good at compartmentalizing.  It’s a lonely life out on tour and it helps to have your best friend with you.

Q: Speaking of the Juniors, you had quite a bit of success in the ITF’s as a young kid. You got up to a career high #14 in 2005. What challenges did you face in translating Junior success to making it on the professional tour?

A: Tennis at the professional level is just a different game than at the junior level.  It was nice to play all of the grand slams as a junior, and when I got to them at the professional level it was helpful to have seen the sights and played on the courts, but for me that’s really where it ended.  Unfortunately, I came out of the juniors thinking that making it in the pros would be easy.  Needless to say, I was in for a rude awakening.

Q: At 25, you can’t really be called a “young gun”, but with so many guys 30+ having great results, how excited are you for the rest of your career? Do you think tennis really is getting “older”?

A: Absolutely.  I think I saw a stat that said there were 10 players 30 or older in the round of 32 at the US Open.  That’s pretty incredible.  Doing really well at a young age is becoming more and more rare.  I think I saw another stat that said there are no players under 20 in the top 200.  It’s really inspiring to see some players playing their best tennis later on in their careers, as well as extending their careers well into their 30’s.  I think that’s definitely the direction that tennis is going at the moment.  I’ve developed later than a lot of other players and I’m really excited for this next stage in my career.

Q:You’ve been asked this repeatedly over the last week and a half, but how does reaching the third round of a grand slam for the first time give you confidence for the rest of the year?

A: It was incredible to reach the third round.  It just instills some belief in myself and reenforces what I’ve been trying to convince myself of for a long time.  I’m hitting the ball great, but competing even better.  Winning a tough four setter and then coming back and winning a four hour five setter gives me a lot of confidence in my physical condition.  I’m looking forward to playing five or six more tournaments this year and really continuing to compete and improve and set myself up for next year.

Q: You’re a short guy. You’ve said in the past that one of your strengths is your speed. Were you a great natural athlete growing up, or did you have to work more in the weight room and off the court to improve your quickness?

A: I’ve been blessed with some athleticism, but being a small guy I have a lot to make up for and I spend a lot of time in the gym and on the field.  I’ve been fortunate to have had some great strength and speed coaches, most of all Jason Riley at the Performance Compound in Tampa.

Q: You’re up to 104 in this weeks rankings, and you’ve been as high as 101. How much would it mean to you to break the top 100?

A: It’s been my goal for as long as I can remember to break into the top 100.  Earlier this year, I’m pretty sure I was one ranking point from being number 99.  It would mean a lot to reach that milestone, but at this point I’m really trying to focus more on improving certain parts of my game and setting my sights even higher.

Q: If given a Wildcard, you said you will be playing the Napa challenger starting September 21st. With your current ranking, how do you decide when to enter ATP World Tour events, and when to enter Challengers?

A: A lot of it depends on which tournaments I get into without having to play qualifying.  Also, two of the challengers in California are 100K’s so there are some good opportunities to make some valuable points.

Q: What are some short and long term goals you have set for yourself? And what parts of your game are you trying to improve the most?

A: Short term, I want to ensure I’m in the main draw of the Australian Open.  Long term I want to set myself up for a long career and stay healthy enough to play into my 30’s.  Watching Ferrer and Haas and some of these other guys who are playing so well late in their careers gives me hope.

Q: And finally, a fun one. What is your favorite tournament(I hope you say New York or San Jose…) and where is the best place to eat at that tournament?

A: New York is definitely my favorite place to play.  I’ll never forget the feeling of having so many people pulling for me last week.  I’ve eaten at this place La Esquina a couple of times there which has incredible Mexican food.  San Jose will always be special to me because it was the first ATP tournament I qualified for.  Indian Wells has to be my other favorite tournament.  It’s one of the most player friendly tournaments of the year.  Finally, it’d be silly not to mention the Australian Open.  They know how to put on a tournament in Melbourne.  (And the buffet at the Hyatt is probably the best breakfast of the year.)

We want to give a huge thanks to Tim for his great, articulate answers and for everything he’s done for our blog. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Tim Smyczek is everything an American should strive to be.