Tennis Industry magazine

 

Your Serve: Remembering Bud

A true ‘tennis zealot’ and visionary, Bud Collins made this game accessible to all.

By Joel Drucker

In a sport that demands individual excellence, Bud Collins was worthy of the task. Wardrobe. Wit. Warmth. Over the course of more than 50 years, Bud, who died March 4 at the age of 86, built a legacy no one will equal — and even more, he let his passion trigger an even greater spirit of inclusion. Consider him a champion of tennis, the democracy.

Recall that when Bud began covering tennis in the 1950s, the sport was a lily-white, amateur game, played at enchanting but starchy places such as the West Side Tennis Club in New York City and the Longwood Cricket Club, outside of Boston. Bud’s first sports editor apologized for assigning his young charge to such a minor, exclusionary sport.

But Bud, a tennis zealot since childhood, was also a visionary, convinced tennis was worthy not just of the classes, but the masses. Years later in his book, “My Life with the Pros,” Bud wrote, “To me, tennis was a wonderful game that could win a larger following if the press and TV — and the game’s leaders — would give it a more thorough chance.”

While building a superb career at the Boston Globe covering the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots, Bud rapidly emerged as a frontline observer and participant, often single-handedly sounding the trumpet as tennis went from acoustic lawn to electric jungle. In 1963, he pioneered the role of tennis commentator, work that started with WGBH, the PBS affiliate in Boston, but in time grew to national coverage, most notably for 35 years with NBC and later for ESPN and Tennis Channel. Dare any of us say “Breakfast at Wimbledon” without thinking of Bud and his off-the-charts, encyclopedic grasp of our sport’s history? Bud loved tennis in a way few have ever loved anything.

But Bud’s vast resume was transcended by something even bigger: universal kindness and generosity. Tennis is a global, highly competitive world. While the team sports have a DNA flavored to some degree by the spirit of collaboration, tennis is propelled by solo actions. Distrust, isolation and paranoia are pervasive. To some degree, this flavor extends to the pressroom. Journalists, after all, are more like singles players — mostly focused on their singular activity. There is a long list of tennis writers who can barely be bothered to even say hello to their colleagues, much less fans and all the others that bring the sport to life.

Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1994, Bud made the tennis media world a community. Whether a journalist was covering his or her first tournament or had attended Slams for decades, Bud was always inclusive, welcoming, and persistently curious. The most delightful moment a journalist could hope for would be to sit near Bud and take in a match — not necessarily a major final, but even a random first-round rout. Because as Bud demonstrated with Djokovic-like consistency, there’s no such thing as a boring story if the writer has enough interest. And Bud never lacked for interest. “What do you think of this young Russian’s game?” he’d ask his neighbor. “Do you think that second serve will hold up? She likes reading Dostoevsky. Well, certainly this match is a form of crime and punishment.”

The same held true beyond his craft. To watch Bud wander the grounds was to witness a tennis Pied Piper of the first order. Any fan who came his way for the first time was worth more than a mild hello, but instead became a subject for engagement. Learning of the fan’s hometown, Bud would cite a notable person, match or place from that area. Bumping into the fan six hours later, Bud would ask, “Marc, did you have a good time today?”

Certainly the answer for Bud to that question was always an emphatic “yes.” He was a big-time person who never big-timed anyone. His contribution has expanded tennis, made it richer. His loss has made tennis sad.

Joel Drucker’s work appears in a variety of print and broadcast media, including Tennis Channel and the Huffington Post. He worked with Bud Collins as a Tennis Channel field producer at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open.


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About the Author

Joel Drucker is one of the world's leading tennis writers. Based in Oakland, CA, his work has appeared in a variety of print and broadcast media, including Tennis, USTA Magazine, ESPN, and Tennis Channel. A technical editor for Patrick McEnroe's book Tennis for Dummies, Drucker's first book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life was published in 2004.

 

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