When Madison Keys arrived home from Roland Garros this year following a second-round loss, she asked her fiancé, Bjorn Fratangelo, for help. The American’s coach had split with her after Charleston and she competed in Europe alone.
“It didn't go so well. She had some tough losses, and she came home and asked for my help. And the first thing I said was like, ‘Are you sure?’” Fratangelo told ATPTour.com. “Because we've done a great job of kind of staying out of each other's careers over the seven years we've been together. And she said yes.”
Since the Monday of the second week of Roland Garros, Fratangelo has served as Keys’ coach. The former No.99 player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings is still an active player and recently qualified for the ATP 500 event in Washington, but has been focused on helping the US Open semi-finalist.
“I'm honestly pretty chronically injured. D.C. just happened to be because the list dropped,” Fratangelo said. “I hadn't really been practicing, if I'm going to be completely honest.”
The 30-year-old figured he might as well take the opportunity to compete there. But the World No. 638’s performance in Washington was not the start of a surge back towards the top of the sport.
“It was nice in a way and it was also a little bit sad, because since then things have kind of gone downhill with the injury and stuff, it's in my foot. So I really haven't hit much since. I played [an ATP Challenger Tour event in] Cary afterwards and I haven't really hit much since then,” Fratangelo said. “It's actually both feet. I have some genetic problems with some bones in my big toes. And I've actually fractured both of my sesamoid bones in both toes.”
In a way, working with Keys in a coaching capacity has been a welcome distraction.
“It was a blessing to kind of have some other things to focus on. I did some coaching stuff for the USTA while I was out last fall with the juniors and stuff and I really enjoyed it. And that was kind of the first time that I thought like, ‘Wow, this coaching stuff is actually a little bit more fun than I thought it would be,’” Fratangelo said. “When she asked if I could go to the grass-court season with her and do Eastbourne and Wimbledon, of course I said yes. I wasn't doing much and I didn't expect to have the success that we've had and she's had.
“She's done an unbelievable job winning Eastbourne, quartering at Wimbledon, and now, kind of taking the momentum in the summertime. It's been great.”
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After the first couple days of standing behind Keys on the practice court and telling her what to do — which he does not like to do — it has been “pretty easy” for Fratangelo to adjust to his coaching role.
"I think when you have one of your biggest supporters standing there, especially after the French Open, a tough time for me, just kind of having that constant support I think was the biggest difference," Keys said.
"I have been really focusing on the serve. It's funny, Bjorn has been wanting me to go after it more so he said if I hit a 121 I get anything I want. I hit a 119 tonight so I was so close."
He has had to work on scouting the Hologic WTA Tour players since he does not know the women particularly well. And it has taken getting used to days dragging when he is not the one warming up, hitting, going through a pre-match routine, doing physio work and so on.
“You have a lot to think about, planning how to play,” Fratangelo said. “For instance, [against Marketa] Vondrousova tonight, I was second-guessing myself. ‘Is it the right way? Should I watch more?’ You just have a lot more time to think about kind of nothing. It makes the day a little bit long.”
But overall, Fratangelo has enjoyed the experience, especially with Keys.
“I think I have a good mind for the game and I've taken it myself as far as I've gone,” Fratangelo said. “I think that maybe even some of my frustration over the years of maybe not surpassing my career high or whatever it's been, is just not being able to do the things that I think I need to do. So to put that on someone else has actually been quite awesome. Because it kind of just solidifies how I think of the game or how I see the game so far.
“And obviously look, we're best friends. She's my fiancée. There's nothing we keep from each other and it's been very collaborative and it's been a lot of fun I think for both of us.”