In Israel in the 1970s, tennis was a sport reserved for the elite and was hardly accessible to the majority of the population. That all changed in 1976, when the Israeli Tennis Centers first opened, giving kids, who would otherwise not have the opportunity, a chance to play tennis.
One of those kids was Gilad Bloom, who would go on to enjoy a 13-year pro career and now runs his own tennis program in New York City.
“The first center was in my hometown of Ramat Hasharon, a small town about five minutes north of Tel Aviv,” said Bloom. “I started going there when I was nine-years-old. By the time I was 10, I was an Israeli champion, and by the time I was 12, I was a 12U world champion.”
Beginning in 1978, the Israeli Tennis Center in Bloom’s home town would host the first-ever ATP tournament in Israel, the Tel Aviv Open, where Bloom would be a ballboy, taking in matches featuring the likes of Tom Okker and Ilie Nastase.
From there, his tennis dream was born.
“I definitely wanted to be a professional player right away,” Bloom said. “I didn’t want to play in college or anything. For me, I wanted to go play Wimbledon and for the Davis Cup, and had all kinds of goals that had to do with tennis at the highest level.”
Those goals would become a reality and Bloom turned pro in 1983 at the age of 16, putting together a successful career on the ATP Tour for more than a decade, which included many seminal moments.
One of those moments was a run to the finals in Tel Aviv, playing in front of his home crowd in the championship match against legendary American Jimmy Connors.
Connors would come back from a set down to win the title, the 109th and final one of his career.
“That would get me a mention in Connors’ book,” Bloom said. “That was a very special moment.”
A few years later, Bloom would represent Israel in Davis Cup action against Switzerland, and won what may have been the biggest tennis match in the nation’s history. In the fifth rubber, Bloom took on Jacob Hlasek, a player ranked nearly 100 spots ahead of him in the rankings.
Bloom didn’t drop his serve throughout the entire match and defeated Hlasek in straight sets to clinch the win for Israel.
“That was really satisfying,” said Bloom. “To win a big match like that in front of your home crowd, not only for yourself but for your country, was a different feeling. The thing I was most proud of was that I was able to play my best tennis on the biggest stage, against a player I probably should have lost to according to the rankings.”
But one of the more memorable tournaments of his career came in New York during the 1990 U.S. Open, when he reached the fourth round, his best showing at a Grand Slam. The then 23-year-old Bloom won his first three matches to set up a showdown with all-time great Ivan Lendl on center court.
During the tournament, Bloom stayed with family nearby on Long Island in Great Neck, and fondly remembers the brief 10-15 minute drive into Flushing every morning. On the way home after one of his victories, he stopped alongside the Grand Central Parkway to call his parents from a pay phone to share the good news.
While Lendl would eliminate Bloom in the fourth round, it was a momentous tournament for both Bloom and his country. He was the first player from Israel to advance that far at the U.S. Open, and was soon joined in the final 16 by his countryman Amos Mansdorf, which garnered them their own story in the next day’s New York Times, “In a First for Israel, Two Players in Round of 16.”
Bloom would continue a successful playing career before retiring from the ATP Tour in 1995. He moved back to Tel Aviv, taking a job as a coach at the Israel Tennis Centers, as began going to college. He would go to classes in the morning and then run the program and teach tennis lessons in the afternoon.
“After a few months of that, I realized that I couldn’t wait to get out of the classroom and get to the tennis courts and work with the kids,” said Bloom, who coached current pro Dudi Sela as one of his first students. “I was always a student of the game, and always knew that coaching was going to be one of the things I would try after retirement. I was getting really good feedback from the kids and the parents and it was a natural fit for me because I gathered up all this information from my playing days and being around great players. I would pick their brains and their coaches’ brains, analyzing and studying the game. It would have been a waste for me not to try and pass that on to the next generation.”
Bloom ran the High Performance Program for Israel Tennis Centers, until he moved to New York City in 2000 to launch his own program. When the John McEnroe Tennis Academy was first launched, Gilad became its director of tennis for two years.
“It was a special experience to work with John McEnroe whom I grew up admiring, he was a longtime friend from our pro tour days. I played him a few times and we kept in touch over the years, we used hit some balls from time to time,” said Bloom. “Running his academy was a great experience, we had over 500 students and I had 34 pros under me. It was great exposure. I had a chance to work with and help some really good players like Jamie Loeb and Gabriela Price among others. But initially I felt that I was losing touch with the students because the job was more about directing the program and the pros. That is the reason I went back to running a small ‘family type’ tennis program was so I can have direct contact with the kids on the court … I missed that.”
He later took the same role at the Tennis Club of Riverdale, before going back under his own teaching umbrella to get back the on the court teaching he missed so much.
“I have a few models that I go by, but since we’re dealing with an individual sport, you can’t run every player through the exact same routine,” said Bloom. “You need to be, first and foremost, almost a psychologist when teaching tennis because every kid is different. My mantra is to teach the pro like they are a beginner and teach the beginner like they are a pro. So if you gave me a Federer or a Djokovic, I would still say ‘Hey, you’re not moving your feet,’ and if you gave me a beginner, I would treat them as if they had a chance to be Roger Federer. I think a lot of the more advanced players need someone to come and say, ‘You’re good, but you’re not the best,’ and if somebody isn’t a great player, but you treat them with respect, you give them a chance to truly excel.”
Bloom has brought a plethora of professional playing experience to his programs and teaches lessons on the clay courts of the Riverdale Tennis Center in the Bronx. Having traveled and played tennis all over the globe, he knows that the New York tennis landscape has both advantages and setbacks.
“During the outdoor season, like most other places, you can get a court just about anywhere,” said Bloom. “But during the indoor season, the real estate, or lack thereof, and the price of it, presents a challenge. I think that is one of the things that makes the Eastern Section good—the New York City mentality and competitive spirit that is in the culture.”
Gilad has called New York City home for the last 20 years, and has been one of the area’s top high-performance coaches. He spends a lot of his time with his wife and four children, while also playing in his band, The Gilad Bloom Band, which puts on about four or five shows a year in New York City.
A true tennis lifer, you can find Bloom teaching kids of all ages and levels on the clay courts of Riverdale Tennis Center, sharing a lifetime worth of pro and international experiences with the next generation of juniors throughout New York City.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com