Fromm is a highly regarded figure in the tennis community, not a household name but a man who has contributed significantly in a wide range of ways, on and off the court, through a good many years. He is, in fact ” a lifer”, a man who is permanently devoted to the game, right down to his core. His serious junior career started late, when he was competing in the 16-and-under division. His first ETA (Eastern Tennis Association) ranking was No. 6 in the 16s. He would rise swiftly to No. 3 in his last year as an 18-and-under competitor, and that led to an outstanding college career.
As he says, ” I wanted to go to an Ivy League school so I chose Columbia. I also loved the idea of playing under Butch Seewagen there, a former pro player and a great coach. I played two years at Columbia and went undefeated in duel matches both years. At that point I was considering transferring to a school where the competition was with the top players in the country but then I would have had to ‘red shirt’ for a year, so instead I turned pro after sophomore year.”
That decision was well founded. Fromm had a very respectable career that lasted from 1978 into 1986, with 1985 becoming his last full year. He celebrated his share of successes, reaching the top 50 in the world, going to the round of 16 in singles at the 1983 French Open, making the semifinals in doubles at Roland Garros the following year. He knocked off Yannick Noah at Wimbledon once, had wins over the likes of perennial top ten in the world player Brian Gottfried, and cut down none other than Stefan Edberg in doubles.
The Noah win stands out proudly in the eye of his mind. They met in the first round 35 years ago, and Fromm was victorious in straight sets over the No. 13 seed. He reflects, “Noah was not known as a great grass court player, even though if you looked at his game there was no particular reason why he should not have been very good on grass. But he wasn’t a particularly committed grass court player. He played the match against me almost as if he wasn’t thrilled with being out there. We played on Court 4 and I was 23. I was brought into the interview room after the match by Bud Collins. Bjorn Borg was actually waiting outside the interview room for mine to finish. That was heady stuff.”
In 1983—the year Noah defined himself by winning the French Open—Fromm had his finest major in singles when he advanced to a fourth round appointment against Jimmy Connors. “That was the year I give myself credit for really training and behaving like a pro, for working my hardest. I had beaten Gottfried in Hamburg with some real out of the box thinking. I couldn’t convince myself mentally that I had any chance to win against Brian. I settled ultimately on the idea that I could not win the match but I could win a point. My attitude was, ‘He knows I am going to lose, I know I am going to lose, everyone knows I am going to lose, but I am going to win a point and I will go from there.’ Somehow that got me into a comfortable place and I ended up winning in three sets after losing the first set. I would almost put that as the No. 1 mental adjustment effort of my playing days.”
Having played good tennis on the clay en route to Paris, Fromm was ready for Roland Garros. “I went into the French with a lot of confidence.The weakness in my game—the achilles heel—was my backhand, but I was hitting it well. I beat John Lloyd in the first round, the No. 1 Belgian player in the second round and Pablo Arraya—a great clay court player—in the third round. That brought me to Connors in the round of 16. My sliced backhand crosscourt went to his forehand so I felt if I was knifing it well I could be effective but he showed me that my forehand couldn’t get through him and Connors played brilliantly. I always remember being in the locker room before I played Connors and Bud Collins walked in and told me the match was going to be on NBC. I thought to myself, ‘I wish you hadn’t told me that.’ But it was a phenomenal experience. I would have liked to have done better, but Connors [a 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 victor] was just too good.”
The next year in the doubles, Fromm joined forces with Israel’s Shlomo Glickstein and they had a remarkable run to the penultimate round. ” We beat Edberg and Gottfried and some other really good teams like Anders Jarryd and Hans Simonsson, and lost to Noah and Henri Leconte in five sets in front of a great crowd. We should have won the match. And the team they beat in the finals— Pavel Slozil and Tomas Smid—I had beaten twice that year in doubles. That was the closest I ever got to winning a Grand Slam tournament.”
At 27, Fromm, who peaked at No. 46 in the world, knew it was time to retire from pro tennis. He says, “My body was kind of arthritic and I never really recovered from a rotator cuff injury that actually started the day I beat Noah at Wimbledon in 1981. I was proud to get to No. 46 but frankly at a certain point you have got to say, ‘Okay, I have to get out there and making a living a different way.’ ”
Fromm finished up his last year-and-a-half as a Columbia undergrad, went to Columbia Business School and worked for Donald Dell’s ProServ operation for six months before realizing that field did not suit him. He tried real estate investment banking but recognized that he did not want to follow that path either. Through that stretch he also ran some tennis events for corporations. He recalls, ” For better or worse, tennis was in my blood and that is where I belong.”
He got a job as a director of tennis at a facility in New York. Fromm was “solidly in the commercial tennis club business as a pro and director.” By the early nineties, Fromm was making major inroads in that business. Later, he worked in the same role at a club in Westchester County, New York. He did that until 2000, when he started working for Sportime. He would stay at Sportime until January of 2015.
As he explains, “I was with Sportime for almost 15 years and worked my way up from, in essence, managing partner of Sportime Harbor in Mamaroneck, New York to ultimately Chief Revenue Officer of the company on the executive management team. I launched and brought them another club and actually launched three Sportime clubs including their flagship club Sportime Randall’s Island. Ultimately, as Executive and Managing Director and Chief Revenue Officer, I oversaw 9 of their 13 sites. I still have a financial interest in the two Sportime clubs in Westchester. But after 15 years I was ready for a new challenge.”
He has ably met that challenge. In fact, Fromm has come full circle, going back to his roots. As a junior, he was a fixture at the famed Port Washington Tennis Academy on Long Island in New York, using that facility to hone his skills alongside some emerging superstars. Now, Fromm is back in that terrain, hoping to make that place a major center of activity once more on the American tennis landscape. As Fromm explains, “I accepted a position to run the effort to rebuild and revitalize the Port Washington Tennis Academy, which is the iconic academy that I grew up playing at with John McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis and Peter Fleming. There are two clubs— Christopher Morley Tennis which is the new ten court club at Christopher Morley Park in Roslyn, New York. We have access to the full park for an all sports summer camp that includes golf, swimming, hiking trails, etcetera. Christopher Morley, the owner of the club, has worked out an arrangement with the Port Washington Tennis Academy, which has been underutilized for a number of years but which is by far the nicest club on Long Island.”
Fromm pauses briefly, then continues, “Port Washington has 17 indoor courts so the owner has worked out an arrangement with Port Washington where we are overseeing the effort to revitalize Port Washington Tennis Academy. So we are calling it ‘Christopher Morley Tennis at the Port Washington Tennis Academy’ and it has a new summer camp, and that is the effort I am overseeing now. I have been there about two-and-a-half months and am very excited about what we can accomplish.”
As Fromm digs deeper into this subject, he adds, “It is fascinating the way things work out in life, and I really have come full circle. I love the process of trying to run great, successful tennis businesses. The effort of management and leadership is as fascinating as anything could be. This is inspiring for me with a new team and new location. Trying to run a great business is no different than trying to be No. 1 in the world. In tennis, you are constantly being tested and you keep learning as you try to put the best team together. For me, it is intellectually and emotionally exciting to be back where I started playing. My title is President/Managing Director.”
Does Fromm envision this as a long term venture? ” Absolutely,” he replies. “I have overseen a dozen or more staffs or teams at clubs over the years and its and ongoing process with every team. That process is about doing something great and creating something great, about coming together as a team. It is a never ending experience.”
It is no accident that Fromm approaches his new job so effusively; it is about being in tennis, staying in tennis, and finding a way to make the most of his talents, which are considerable.
” On Facebook,” he says, ” there is a group of ATP alumni with hundreds of former players actively posting on this page. You see how many of us are still in tennis. There is nothing in my life that I have invested so much energy into and have so much passion for except for my family. That ultimately is why I have stayed in tennis. We all want success but without passion you won’t find it. But life is about the friendships and the memories and the people you are going through it with. I just watched a match the other day between an 11-year-old and a great kid and great player I know named Matt Zeifman, who is nine. And if there is one thing I would like to pass on to Matt, it is this: if he is going to be No.1 in the world or No. 30 or a top college player, it is going to end somewhere and sometime. At the end of the day, it is about the friendships and the memories along with the effort and the accomplishments.
“This Facebook group is a perfect embodiment of that with guys like Johan Kriek, Jimmy Arias and Dick Stockton posting, but it goes all the way down to guys who never made it outside of eastern junior tennis. There is a phenomenal sense of egalitarianism, and that is beautiful. When you are competing, it is all about your ranking. You have a number and there is a hierarchy based on that. Now, years down the road, we all feel like what I imagine World War II veterans feel like. We are all brothers.”
But some former players have been better at transitioning than others. Fromm has been in the forefront of the game for 25 years now on another level, and that is why he has good reason to be optimistic about the Port Washington/ Christopher Morley alliance. Near the end of our discussion, Eric Fromm touched on something substantial that defines in many ways who he is, how he built his excellent reputation, and where he is going.
He said, ” As someone who was never the most talented player on the court, I had the strong belief that tactics and strategies can lead to success even when your opponent is shot for shot the better player. Mistakes must be minimized and that is always first and foremost. My success in doubles was always a little more than what I achieved in singles, but all I can say is I believe I was good at choosing a great partner. So what does that mean in business? It means hiring the best people. In tennis, there is no politics on the court; you win or lose on the merits.”
Eric Fromm. A lifer. A man who knows the value of deep thinking and hard work. A fellow of the first rank.