Good Bye, Tom Perrotta, Tennis Writer Extraordinaire

My friends and family know not to bother me for three weeks each year.  Every year for the past 15 or so, I have had the privilege of spending every day at the end of August and beginning of September (except for Shabbat and some years, Rosh Hashanah!) at the US Open Tennis Championships, writing about Israeli and Jewish players mainly for the Jerusalem Post.  

On a good year, I arrive for the qualifying tournament, where I am most likely to see Israelis battling for a spot in the main draw.  And I get to stay through the finals, often getting to interview Israeli and Jewish juniors, and also covering wheelchair tennis.  It is tiring but it is the best job in the world! 

Sometimes I feel like an imposter.  While I know a bit about tennis and have written dozens of articles for the Jerusalem Post, the Times of Israel and other publications—and have even covered other tournaments including the Davis Cup and the Fed Cup, I am truly a part timer.  I am always in awe of the men and women who travel the globe—from the Australian to the French to Wimbledon to the US Open—to cover the events, the players, the behind the scenes and the vibe.  One of the greatest I have ever met is Tom Perrotta, who sadly died this week.  The tennis world lost a giant.  Tom died at age 44 after a 4-year battle with brain cancer.

Tom Perrotta wrote mainly for the Wall Street Journal.  His colleague, Jason Gay, wrote movingly about his friend and colleague.  He had an encyclopedic knowledge of tennis and was great covering technical aspects, but he always found interesting angles and behind the scenes, from articles on grunting, to players wearing or not wearing sunscreen, to “Why Andy Murray is a Tennis Nerd.”  And he always found time to schmooze with tennis colleagues.

I looked forward to seeing Tom each year at the US Open.  I would sometimes sit near him in the media section of Arthur Ashe Stadium and listen in awe as he and tennis journalist and historian par excellence, Steve Flink, would compare notes—about the match in progress, or about a match from 1998, where both could effortlessly from memory reconstruct the draw sheet.  I remember at the last US Open (where fans and reporters were allowed), standing around the info desk in the media center waiting for a not-so-top ranked player to come for a media session.  On a couple of occasions, it was me and Tom.  While waiting, we discussed our children and made other small talk.  I admired his knowledge and his insight and admired a guy who could do what he loved.  I didn’t realize he was also battling brain cancer.  Tom wrote a moving article in the Wall Street Journal this past November, when he was losing vision and cognitive processing speed.  While sad and angry, he was also delighted to have some much time at home with his wife and two sons.  It was entitled, “In a Stay At Home Pandemic, a Sportswriter Finds a Silver Lining.”  

In his tribute to Perrotta, Jason Gay shared a feeling that all of us lucky enough to cover the US Open can relate to.  “Here’s a little secret about what it’s like to cover one of those major tennis tournaments: It’s just as great as it sounds. It isn’t like the job doesn’t have its hassles, or bad days, but most of the time, it feels like you’re getting away with something.”  We get to be around tennis for so many hours and days in a row!

I look forward to being part of the team of 1200 credentialed media who get to share the stories of the US Open each year with the world.  The only part as great as the tennis itself is renewing acquaintances with old friends.  Let’s pray for a return to normal for the US Open 2021.  Looking forward to seeing you soon, Sandra, Cindy, Jerold, Michael, my Argentinian friends who share my love of Diego Schwartzman, all of my Japanese friends who share the last row in the media center with me and the Jerusalem Post, and so many others.  But I will miss you, Tom.  


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