Just minutes into Lukas Frangenberg (8)’s first tennis tournament at age 10, he was losing 4-0. “I was crying on the court because I was so upset,” he said.
Frangenberg was nervous, but at the lowest point in the match, he felt a switch in his mindset. He saw his father and grandfather cheering for him from the side of the court and considered how he could improve his performance. Then, he mounted a comeback and won the first set 7-6.
Now, four years after that first competition, Frangenberg is ranked 12th in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Eastern Metropolitan Region for Boys 14 and under. He started playing tennis at age six because his grandfather played, but began to take it seriously when he was nine and now competes year-round, he said.
Frangenberg was drawn to the sport because it requires both physical and mental strength, he said. “You have to regulate your feelings because there’s no one you can get mad at except yourself,” he said. It is difficult to not become frustrated after making mistakes during a game, but Frangenberg tries to stay positive, imagine himself winning, and think about tactics he could use to turn the match around, he said.
Control over emotions is crucial prior to a match, Frangenberg said. Even after years of competitions, he is not immune to butterflies before a tournament. He typically is nervous on his way to the match or the day before but is calm when he steps onto the court.
“I always think about the mind and the body as two completely different things,” Frangenberg said. “My body may be sweating and feeling nervous, but I tell myself in my mind that I’m not nervous, and my body will calm down as well. If my mind is thinking, ‘I’m so nervous,’ then it is definitely not going to go well.”
Frangenberg enjoys the sport because it is self-reliant, he said. “When I’m on the court, I’m completely on my own,” he said. “Even if there’s someone watching me, they can’t help, so I have to come up with solutions by myself.”
Frangenberg trains five days a week at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randall’s Island. To protect players from COVID-19, the facility checks their temperatures before training sessions, organizes play in smaller groups, and maintains strict social distancing rules, he said.
At tournaments, Frangenberg and his opponents can only touch tennis balls marked with their initials, and only the players are allowed in the venue. He plays better when no one watches him because he does not have the pressure of parents or coaches getting upset at him if he makes a mistake, he said. The lack of spectators also gives him more responsibility to reflect on the match and how he can improve by himself, he said.
Both Frangenberg and his father have high expectations for his tournaments, so losing often sends them down a spiral of negative thoughts, he said. “When we’re driving back to the house after the game, I won’t want to talk,” he said. Losses are especially hard after close matches or when an opponent cheats, Frangenberg said.
At his first tournament, Fragenberg played someone who took advantage of his inexperience, argued with his line calls, and stole points from him to win. It taught him that players can be mean in competition, but it is more important for him to adhere to his values. “It feels so good when I win a match [where my opponent cheated] and I can look him in the eyes when I walk off to make sure he knows that what he did to me was not fair.”
Frangenberg’s father encourages him to keep a positive outlook after games. His dad used to golf competitively, so he knows how it feels to be under pressure and feel down after a defeat, Frangenberg said.
When feeling discouraged, he often finds inspiration in his favorite professional tennis players, such as Roger Federer, he said. Seeing their trick shots and winners motivates him to get back on a court and try to replicate them himself.
Above all, he reminds himself that he is at the start of his tennis career. “I’m still fourteen years old, and I have plenty more matches in front of me,” he said. “Besides, I’m not playing the U.S. Open or the most important match in my life — it’s just for fun.”
Frangenberg said he hopes to improve his mental and tactical skills, join the Varsity team at the school, and play college tennis. “My biggest dream beyond college is to be successful in tennis as a professional player,” he said. “That would be amazing.”
It is a difficult goal, but his strength lies in his fighting spirit and drive to win, Frangenberg said. “If I’m losing, I am not going to give up. I’m going to keep trying.”