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The Quintessential Quaranteam: Madison Keys and Bjorn Fratangelo
Travel teaches life lessons, and forces you to learn about others. Forced to stay in one place for the first time in years, the American tennis couple has nonetheless learned plenty about themselves, and each other.
Published Jul 28, 2020
On a spring morning earlier this year, Madison Keys headed outside for a workout. Not long into her routine, her boyfriend, Bjorn Fratangelo, texted, “I owe you a new coffee maker.” The 2017 US Open finalist shrugged it off and continued with her stretch of exercises, for Fratangelo was on a routine of his own—one that was far from customary for the former French Open junior champion.
Earlier in the week, Fratangelo thought nothing of a hot pan he placed in their kitchen sink, only to find later that a pair of scissors had melted underneath. Twice while washing dishes, the Pittsburgh, Pa. native turned on the garbage disposal and sliced up a measuring utensil. A teaspoon was now misshapen, and a one-quarter cup had lost its handle. When grilling outside, Fratangelo discovered the pair’s probe thermometer was not fireproof, and that melting feeling returned.
“When I got home, Bjorn just turned and looked at me, explained how he was washing the coffee carafe, and accidentally knocked it against the sink,” Keys said. It shattered.
“I just broke down laughing because it was the fifth thing he had broken in a week. Every time we use the teaspoon or measuring cup, we still laugh.”
At the time, Keys, 25, and Fratangelo, 27, were entrenched in their longest stretch together at one place, far from surprising given the realities that come with being professional tennis players. Before the coronavirus put the WTA and ATP tours on pause, Fratangelo was home in Orlando, preparing for a local tournament after having not played an event since early January. Keys was at Indian Wells, getting set for her first appearance since the Australian Open, when the BNP Paribas Open became the first tennis tournament of 2020 to cancel.
The two made the most of space at home to keep their workouts fresh. (Madison Keys)
After Keys and Fratangelo reunited, both backed off tennis initially, focusing their efforts on injury prevention and fitness for the first few weeks. While Keys is an expert on organization, Fratangelo took the lead in upholding a routine within the household. He still set an alarm each day, which anti-morning person Keys cynically “loved,” and studied up on nutrition, a core responsibility any world-class athlete would need to be more accountable for while isolated over an extended period.
“I have a hard time just sitting still. I knew I was a little high strung and liked having things to do, but this has highlighted how much so,” Fratangelo said. “I was going nuts at the beginning of this lockdown and was a bit tough to be around.
“I was just getting ready to come back from a fairly long injury, so I was a bit bummed when all of this happened. Madi has a good way of helping me see things through a bit of a brighter lens.”
Keys shares a passion for cooking with Fratangelo, whose deeper dive into adopting food as fuel inspired the duo to become more conscious about what they eat. The process allowed the two to experience expanding their palates together, and they savored uncovering recipes that struck a perfect union of nourishing, yet flavorful.
Through regular activities like culinary exploration, collectively meeting the challenges of an indefinite quarantine championed their strength as a unit.
“We balance each other out pretty well. He likes to always be doing something, and I could lay on the couch for hours and not even realize it,” Keys said. “So being able to have Bjorn to help keep a semblance of structure, normalcy and constantly thinking of new things to do has helped time go by quicker. I think I’ve helped him chill out when he starts getting antsy about being home.”
Unable to take his game to another level since mid-March, Fratangelo has instead upped his photography game. On Instagram (@bjornfrat), Bjorn posted an array of carefully edited images: up-close shots of foliage and dew; scenic photos of towns bathed in light; and a picture of a book titled, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. (Getty Images)*
Together since July 2017, time for independence has not been overlooked by the tandem. In addition to holistic health, Fratangelo has picked up photography as a budding hobby. Keys, an avid fan of interior design, has helped friends redecorate and conceived rooms on Pinterest. While both are different in a lot of ways, facing the same uncertain future has aided in keeping the two relatable. Forcing the other into fits of giggles, a common ingredient bonding the pair, has elevated that connection even further.
“Being in quarantine together has really shown us that we don’t have to be doing something in particular to enjoy being together. We laugh together a lot and Bjorn is constantly keeping me on my toes,” Keys said. “We feel like a regular couple that lives a normal life, and we really don’t mind the normalcy that we have right now. Whether it’s the morning cup of coffee or even hitting balls together, these things could be taken for granted if it’s something you’ve done continuously for many, many years.”
Like any couple in self-confinement these past few months, individual traits between the Americans have noticeably been amplified. Fratangelo admits to having a short fuse, one he attaches to his Italian roots. Keys has helped mellow that out over time, though as Fratangelo points out, his other half has a neurotic attribute that may require some softening of its own.
“I’ve learned, Madi is a little crazy when it comes to organization,” Fratangelo said. “I’m very neat myself, but if I hang a shirt back in my closet in the wrong spot, I can still have a great day. But in Madi’s house, EVERYTHING has its place, and it needs to always go back into its home, whether it’s a spatula or a pair of socks in the dresser. Madi definitely keeps me under control, though.”
Keys’ Instagram (@madisonkeys) has provided regular looks into her life at home. “The next six weeks without tennis means what I share with you will be... well, not a lot of tennis,” she wrote on March 14. Since then, she’s shared a full core/circuit workout, among other exercises; her morning and evening skincare routines; and a picture of an inflatable pool and unicorn (IG location: Backyard Fun.)
By late May, Keys and Fratangelo had steadily increased their hitting sessions. Keys was the first to publicly return on court, serving as a team captain at the Credit One Bank Invitational, a 16-player women’s event held in late June in Charleston, S.C. With April’s Volvo Car Open—where Keys was defending champion—having been one of the WTA events abandoned for 2020, the opportunity granted the former world No. 7 a chance to visit one of her favorite host cities on tour.
“As much as I get homesick when we’re playing and traveling during the year, I really love going all the places I get to go,” Keys said. “I really miss having routines all around the world, like going to a restaurant and seeing those same people every year.”
When the tours resume, Keys and Fratangelo will revert to traversing the globe, often in separate parts of the world, to chase their individual tennis ambitions. Perhaps one can pack the teaspoon and other the one-quarter cup, as a reminder that any challenges presented on the road can be vanquished with a simple dose of laughter—thus preserving the link between the quintessential Quaranteam.
Monday, July 27: Sofia Kenin | Monday, July 27: Elena Rybakina | Monday, July 27: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday, July 28: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday, July 28: Thiago Seyboth Wild