At 6 years old, Annandale native Mitchell Frank wasn’t content to mindlessly swat balls around the tennis court with his mother. He knew he was good, but wanted to know how good.
“We had been watching Wimbledon, and my wife was hitting him some tennis balls,” Richard Frank, Mitchell’s father, recalled. “Before one shot, he stops and says, ‘Mom, where am I ranked in the world?’ He was very serious in the question. He wanted to know.”
Twelve years later, the answer to Frank’s question is No. 677. Professional tennis players are defined by their ranking, but Frank still is an amateur who just graduated from Annandale High School. In the fall, he’ll attend the University of Virginia on a tennis scholarship. And when he’s ready, he’ll turn pro, where his obsession will be chipping away at the number he has been thinking about since he was 6.
Frank’s early athletic aspirations revolved around football, but after participating in youth leagues for five years, he decided to concentrate on tennis at 11.
With the help of coach Vin Do at the Fairfax Racquet Club, Frank began to fine-tune his game. By the time he was 14, he won the Boys 14-and-under Super National Clay Court Championships, and suddenly was on the radar of the United States Tennis Association, tennis academies and college coaches across the country.
With each tournament victory that followed, Frank began to get more and more solicitations from tennis academies in Florida.
Frank’s mother, Janet, is a music teacher in the Fairfax County Public School system, and Richard Frank is an author who has written critically acclaimed books about the Pacific Theatre during World War II. In a sport rife with intense, overbearing parents, the Franks are as laid back as they come.
Frank’s grandfathers were both accomplished amateur tennis players, but Janet and Richard knew little about the path to a career in tennis and never pushed him to focus on the sport.
“With the solicitations, there would usually be some sort of scholarship offer, and in the beginning they were for modest amounts, but as he became more successful, the offers became sweeter,” Richard Frank said. “It was sort of like watching your stock go up.”
But even as their son’s stock soared, the Franks had reservations about shipping him off to the tennis factories of southern Florida or letting him “put all his eggs in the tennis basket.”
“None of the academies had sufficiently challenging academics, and we didn’t want our son to go away and be raised by other people,” Richard Frank said.
Luckily for the Franks, FCPS administrators worked with him to accommodate his tennis career, which took him out of the area some 20 to 30 weeks per year. During his freshman and sophomore years at Annandale High School, he was allowed to take a few online classes, enabling him to get out of school around noon each day. He went to a completely online schedule for his final two years of high school. The flexible schedule allowed him time to work out more intensively with coaches at the Junior Tennis Champions Center, a regional USTA training center in College Park, Md.
Financing a budding tennis star’s development is not cheap, but once it became clear he was almost certain to obtain a tennis scholarship to college, the Franks felt comfortable using some of his college fund to finance his tennis development. The decision proved fortuitous.
Despite Frank’s busy schedule, he still managed to compile a 4.04 grade point average while retaining a core group of friends at Annandale. Historically, many top tennis talents have eschewed college to go straight onto the Association of Tennis Professionals tour, but in recent years the trend has shifted back toward favoring college tennis. Frank, who is considering majoring in psychology, said he was not tempted to go straight onto the ATP tour.
“It was a pretty simple decision for me to go to college,” said Frank, who had offers from nearly every tennis powerhouse in the country, including Duke, Texas A&M and Harvard. He ultimately chose UVA because of its excellent academic reputation and strong tennis program. “I’ll get an education and see how that goes before I go out on the tour.”
Still, some elite college tennis players find that they’ve outgrown the competition within a year or two of beginning their college careers, so Frank plans to re-evaluate his plans on a year-to-year basis.
But for the moment, his thoughts are focused on this year’s U.S. Open. Frank lost to Daniel Kosakowski (No. 395) in the wild card tournament in College Park last week, but by virtue of making it to the final of the U.S. National U-18 tournament in Kalamazoo, Mich., earlier this month, he was guaranteed a spot in the U.S. Open Qualifying Tournament, which began Aug. 23 in Flushing Meadows. Results from the tournament were not available by the Times’ deadline.
His stellar play, which reminds some of world No. 4 Andy Murray without the temper, has caught the attention of Patrick McEnroe, the former player and Davis Cup captain, who now is general manager of player development at the USTA.
“He’s a great competitor, he’s going to go to college next year, and I think that’s a good decision for him,” McEnroe said. “He’s a great kid and he’s got a tremendous work ethic.”
Heady stuff, but Frank, a modest young man who frequently compliments his opponents’ good shots and rarely loses his cool, isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“I think I can go pretty far,” Frank said of his career goals. “I’d like to be in the top 100 or top 50 in the world. I want to try to win grand slams and stuff like that, but you’ve got to take it one step at a time.”