Sunday, October 14, 2018

After mulling retirement, Fratangelo fabulous in Fairfield

Bjorn Fratangelo poses with tournament officials and his check for $14,400
after winning the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship
in Fairfield, Calif. From left to right are NorthBay Healthcare President & CEO
B. Konard Jones, Solano Community College District Superintendent-President
Celia Esposito-Noy, Fratangelo, tournament chairman Jay Shoemaker and tour-
nament director Phil Cello. Photo by Paul Bauman
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   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Bjorn Fratangelo was so discouraged over the summer that he considered retiring early like his namesake.
   Three months later, the unseeded American cradled the trophy in the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship after outplaying eighth-seeded Alex Bolt of Australia 6-4, 6-3 today at Solano Community College.
Unseeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., beat No. 8 seed Alex Bolt of
Australia 6-4, 6-3 for his first Challenger singles title in 2 1/2 years. Photo
 by Paul Bauman
   "I'm feeling a lot better than I was three months ago," Fratangelo crowed after winning his third Challenger singles title and first in 2 1/2 years. "If somebody had told me in June I'd win a Challenger, I probably would have laughed and thought you were crazy. It's really special right now. It's probably my most emotional win.
   "If I'm going to be honest, I wasn't sure in the summertime if I was going to continue to play. I had a lot of doubts and a lot of things going wrong, and I just wasn't enjoying tennis. To turn this around like I have, I'm really proud of myself and my team."
   Bjorn Borg retired at 26 in 1983 after training fanatically for 10 years and winning 11 Grand Slam singles titles. Fratangelo's future also looked promising when he won the French Open boys singles title in 2011. He climbed as high as No. 99 in June 2016 but has been in the 100s ever since.
   After struggling this summer, Fratangelo hired Andres Alarcon as his new coach and has won 14 of his last 18 matches, all on the Challenger circuit, equivalent to Triple A in baseball.
   "I started off pretty poorly in the beginning of the year," groaned Fratangelo, a Pittsburgh native now based in Orlando, Fla. "Just when things were looking up in the clay-court season, I tore my quad. Sitting at home made me a bit miserable. I had a lot of negative thoughts that were bringing me down. Then when I finally was healed, there wasn't really much excitement to get back on the court, and it showed. I think I went 0-8 or 0-9. I just wasn't myself. I wasn't tanking but wasn't competing how I normally compete.
Alex Bolt, a Clark Gable lookalike, addresses
the crowd after the final. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "There were a lot of problems that I had to address. Luckily, I had a lot of help from my family, my new coach, and (USTA coaches) Troy Hahn and Nicolas Todero to get back on track, so I owe a lot of this to them. I wouldn't be here right now without their support and help because it was a really tough time period."
   Fratangelo elaborated on his negativity and lack of motivation. 
   "You feel like your career gets stuck," he moaned. "I was around 100 for three years, you feel like you do everything you can to improve, and things aren't happening. After three, three-and-a-half years of that, I finally cracked a little bit once I got hurt and had time to sit back. It was hard. There were a lot of rough days. I wasn't the easiest person to be around for a while, but I've changed everything, and I think I'm back to normal, maybe better than ever. Hopefully I can take this form and this attitude into the rest of my career."
   Fratangelo continued playing because "ultimately, it's what I do. I'm a tennis player. I've been doing it my whole life. Just because I wasn't enjoying playing, it doesn't necessarily mean I don't enjoy the sport. I love tennis, I love to watch tennis, I love to play. Maybe at that time, I was enjoying just playing more than I was competing. But I think I got my competitiveness back. I'm very lucky to do this, but sometimes it takes a land mine to prove that to yourself."
   Both Fratangelo and the left-handed Bolt, a Clark Gable lookalike with his dark features and thin mustache, are 6-foot (1.83-meter) 25-year-olds with two-handed backhands. Even their rankings are almost identical. Fratangelo leaped 20 places to No. 138 with the title, and Bolt jumped 16 spots to a career-high No. 139.
   Bolt, a two-time Australian Open doubles quarterfinalist who qualified for Wimbledon in singles this year, was the third Australian and second Aussie left-hander to fall to Fratangelo in the NorthBay Healthcare tournament. Fratangelo eliminated John-Patrick Smith 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the first round to avenge a three-set loss to the lefty in the second round of the $100,000 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger two weeks ago and ousted top-seeded Jordan Thompson 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
Alex Bolt leaps into a backhand in the final. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Bolt, meanwhile, outlasted countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis, who stunned Roger Federer in March, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 in the first round, edged 22-year-old wild card Collin Altamirano of Sacramento 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5) in the second round in the match of the tournament and ousted second-seeded Lloyd Harris, the champion of last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger, in the quarterfinals.
  A near-capacity crowd of about 250 people turned out for the final on a gorgeous 80-degree (26.7 Celsius). Fratangelo broke serve once in the first set and twice in the second, saved the only break point against him and won a phenomenal 18 of 21 points (86 percent) on his second serve.
   Bolt, who was seeking his third career Challenger singles title and second this year, took a medical timeout for an abdominal problem after the first set but showed no discomfort during the match.
   "He has a strong lefty game, so it was tricky at first returning serve," said Fratangelo, who has reached the second round of a Grand Slam tournament twice and took a set off Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells in 2016. "But once I got comfortable, I started to find my stride. Maybe he was ailing a little bit today, but I'm just happy to get the win."
   Bolt said afterward that he might be in a little pain "but I don't think that's the reason I lost. Bjorn was lights out from the get-to. Every time there was a big point, he stepped up. He played the big points better than I did. That's why he came away with a win today."
   Ironically, Fratangelo rather than Bolt complained about several line calls and chair umpire Roger Pennington. In the third game of the match, Fratangelo groused at Pennington: "I'm going to try really hard not to get upset with you today."
   After Bolt's backhand cross-court passing shot in the corner was called good on break point against him at 2-2 in the second set, Fratangelo dropped his racket in disbelief and fumed at Pennington, "This is where I get upset."
Top-seeded Sonchai Ratiwatana, left, of Thailand and Christopher
Rungkat of Indonesia won the doubles title. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Bolt saved four break points in that game before losing the fifth one on a slice approach that landed just wide. He was broken again in the final game, losing three consecutive points from 15-15. Bolt double-faulted for 15-40, then couldn't reach a cross-court backhand at the net.
   Fratangelo was still angry about the officiating after the match.
   "I wasn't happy with the calls, and I'm going to let people know about it," he grumbled.
  Fratangelo improved to 2-1 (1-1 on hardcourts) against Bolt and pocketed $14,400 for the title to give him $995,229 for his career. Bolt collected $8,480 for a total of $607,326.
   Top-seeded Sanchai Ratiwatana of Thailand and Christopher Rungkat of Indonesia won the doubles title, beating unseeded Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 6-0, 7-6 (9).
   Ratiwatana, 36, and the 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter), 150-pound (68-kilogram) Rungkat, 28, played in their second final in two weeks. They lost to Darian King of Barbados and Noah Rubin of Long Island, N.Y., in nearby Stockton.
   Ratiwatana normally plays with his twin Sonchat.
   "It's school back in Thailand, so he wanted to spend time with his daughter," Sonchai explained. "He has a 6-year-old girl. Before these three tournaments (Tiburon, Stockton and Fairfield), we played many, many weeks. He wanted a little bit of time at home."
   Laaksonen, 26, was born in Finland to a Finnish mother and Swiss father.

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