By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Bjorn Fratangelo came to the Winston-Salem Open expecting to have to go through qualifying. But good fortune has followed him every step of the way since he got here.
Fratangelo was granted a last-minute wild card into the Main Draw on Friday, and then on Sunday afternoon he rallied to beat Evgeny Donskoy 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in first-round action on Stadium Court. It moved him into second-round action against 11th-seeded Paolo Lorenzi.
“It was great to get a wild card,” Fratangelo said. “I didn’t expect it. I got it about 20 minutes before they made the draw. So that was nice. I’ve played a lot this summer so I can do without two extra matches. So I want to thank the tournament director and hopefully now I can keep moving forward. Every match counts right now and I’m looking forward to the rest of this tournament and then New York, so I’m pretty excited.”
Fratangelo came to the WSO ranked No. 116, after a short stint inside the Top 100 at No. 99 in June.
The 23-year-old from Pittsburgh is just now starting to realize some of the great potential he showed as a junior. He was the No. 2-ranked junior at one point, winning the Roland Garros junior title in 2011 after winning the USTA Under-18 clay court in 2010 and the USTA Under-16 clay court in 2009.
He has been splitting time between the ATP World Tour and the Challenger circuit, winning a Challenger in Savannah earlier this year and reaching the finals of a Challenger in Bordeaux prior to Roland Garros. At Roland Garros, he scored a first-round win over Sam Querrey.
“Slow and steady wins the race, right?” Fratangelo said. “I’ve progressively moved up. I haven’t had any breakout success, it’s been steadily rising. I think that’s good. I’ve been through a lot of highs and lows, so I feel like nothing gets to me anymore mentally. I was in the Top 100 for a week and I’d like to get back there as soon as possible. But I’m putting wins together at a higher level now, so that’s all I can ask for.”
In truth, a loss may have been a pivotal moment in his year. He faced Novak Djokovic in the second round at Indian Wells and took the first set before Djokovic came back for a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory. It turned out to be the only set Djokovic lost the entire week.
“Mentally, it gave me a lot of confidence to know that I really belong with these guys out here,” Fratangelo said. “That’s something I didn’t always believe. But to play him as close as I did gave me a lot of self-confidence and it really turned my season around.”
Against Donskoy, Fratangelo had to survive a rain delay, then had to rally after being down a set and a break in the second.
“I started off OK and then when the rain came, I didn’t feel I started back well,” Fratangelo said. “I wasn’t feeling my forehand that great. But I hung tough. I got down a break in the second set but I immediately broke back, and then I felt more and more comfortable as the match went on.”
In other Main Draw first-round matches, Jan-Lennard Struff beat Andreas Seppi 6-2, 6-3, Daniel Evans beat Gastao Elias 6-3, 7-6 (3), Yen-Hsun Lu beat Illya Marchenko 7-6 (5), 6-3 and Stephane Robert beat Paul-Henri Mathieu 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
In the second round of qualifying, James Duckworth beat Wake Forest freshman Petros Chrysochos 6-2, 6-2, Yoshihito Nishioka beat Liam Brody 6-2, 6-1, James McGee beat Michael Berrer 6-3, 6-2, and Radu Albot beat Tim Van Rijthoven 6-3, 6-2. Van Rijthoven was then added to the Main Draw as a lucky loser when Thanasi Kokkinakis withdrew because of a shoulder injury.