When the topic is tennis, there’s only one Bud. Unfortunately, health issues delayed TAT’s interview, originally planned in conjunction with the publication date of The Bud Collins History of Tennis. “I’m doing quite well now,” he says, the tone of his voice sounding mighty hearty for a gentleman approaching his 80th birthday. The racing around and packing for Australia that is occurring in the background during our chat certainly would indicate that he is every bit as healthy and fit as an international traveler/reporter need be as he enters his 54th season of tennis coverage. In a few days, Bud Collins and his wife Anita R. Klaussen will embark on what has become an annual journey that mixes both of their professions. Anita is a noted photographer (some of her work can be viewed on Bud’s website, at www.budcollinstennis.com). They’ll depart for the south Pacific, where their holiday will begin with photo shoots. This will be followed by tournament attendance, and television and print work, highlighted by reporting from yet another Australian Open. Even at 79, Bud Collins is in high demand come Slam time.
So, just how did he come to be so closely identified with the game of tennis? A lifelong passion? Hunger to cover a game that, early in his career, held nowhere near the interest on an international scale that it does today? Guess again. It seems that Bud was not drawn to cover tennis, but rather “was ordered to do so” by his editor at the Boston Herald. Not that he didn’t come in with some experience. Bud had played tennis for his alma mater, Baldwin-Wallace College, in the early 1950s. And while he chuckles when asked about his game, a little research reveals that he’s held a few titles over the years, including the U.S. Indoor Mixed Doubles crown (won in 1961, when he was playing with then USTA Top 10 player Janet Hopps).
Back in his early reporter days, tennis coverage was, according to Bud, “the domain of the drunks and the blacklisted.” In fact, Bud says he felt compelled to contain his excitement when his editor at the Boston Herald told him he would be going to Longwood, MA to cover the U.S. Doubles Championship in the late 50s, his first tennis assignment. “I loved it. Immediately. And I returned to my editor and said we need to cover more tennis.” His editor’s reply? “Don’t get any ideas. There’s no room in the sports page to cover tennis.”
Incidentally, while working as a reporter in Boston, Bud received a phone call from a colleague, Denny Friedman, looking for help in hiring a head tennis coach for Brandeis University. When Bud learned that the position paid $200.00 per season, he informed his friend to look no further: “I know the perfect guy – ME!” So, from 1959 to 1963, Bud coached the Brandeis team. His most famous player would go on to make a huge name for himself in the1960s, although not on the courts. “Yes, I coached Abbie Hoffman,” confirms Bud (Hoffman became the Yippie radical and Chicago 7 member). Asked to describe the experience, Bud says he was “essentially uncoachable. He was my No. 3 player, and while he was talented, and would win most of his matches, he was extremely disagreeable.” Bud describes Hoffman’s game as “right wing conservative – he refused to go to net.” Another one of Bud’s players in that era was Burt Strug, father of Olympic gymnastics standout Kerri Strug. And don’t think Bud is beyond taking a tiny amount of credit for Kerri’s success – Bud recalls his advice to Burt was to “‘always stay on the beam.’ And look what happened!”
By 1963, Bud had changed papers, moving to The Boston Globe, which is still his employer, and found a new editor who was “crazy about tennis. It was a big change and a welcome one” from his experience at the Herald. Around this time, Bud had his first opportunity to cover tennis for television. “It was for Boston’s Educational Television outlet. Many people thought I worked for PBS, but back in 1963, there was no PBS. There were individual stations that showed educational programs, and Boston’s outlet was WGBH.” Eventually, Bud’s television work would get picked up by a number of channels grouped together as the Eastern Educational Network, and by 1968 he would have a national presence. Bud takes pride in the fact that he was “the first local newspaper sports guy to become a national television reporter.”
Ask Bud about his preference between print and TV work, and he doesn’t hesitate to reply: newsprint. “Oh yeah. I’ve always thought of myself as a newspaper guy first, and I just always thought there was more to what you could do with newspaper coverage.” He is troubled that his beloved Globe, among other newspapers, faces the crisis that the print media finds itself in these days. “I guess it’s something we need to get used to,” says Bud about newspaper reportage shifting to the web, which, he feels, is an uncomfortable way to read the latest news.
Along with his newspaper and television work, Bud has written or co-written several books, including My Life With The Pros, The Bud Collins Tennis Encyclopedia, and The Bud Collins History Of Tennis (published by New Chapter Press in Summer 2008), An exhaustive 720+ page look at the sport, The Bud Collins History of Tennis details the records, the player biographies and stories, and the history of the game. “When I started traveling years ago, I used to have to carry a book bag that held five or six different volumes to have all the information that I needed to cover an event. That was just way too much, so I always wanted there to be one book that had everything. That’s how I see History.” When asked how long it took him to write the book, he laughs and says, “Fifty years. This book contains everything I learned in my years of studying and covering the sport.” While much of History comes out of Bud’s personal notes from over the years, it is also based on his memories of meeting and associating with the greats of the sport. And given how tennis continues to evolve and produce new stars, fans of the sport will be happy to know that the bookis intended to be a living compendium, with regular revisions and updates. “I’m already working on updated statistics and stories” for the first revision, which will likely be published in 2009 or 2010.
Bud loves to tell stories about not only the greats of the game, but also those players whose names may not ring a bell to the casual fan, but who have some accomplishment on their resume that is worthy of inclusion in a section of The Bud Collins History of Tennis called “They Also Served.” This feature contains stories about players like Allen Fox. Fox might not be a household name, but in 1966, he won the Los Angeles/Pacific Southwest Championship, beating all four of 1966’s Slam champions – Manolo Santana (Wimbledon), Fred Stolle (U.S.), Tony Roche (French) and Roy Emerson (Australian) in one tournament to claim the crown.
When asked about resources for the proper pronunciation of the players’ names, Bud says the only true way is to “go to the player and ask them.” He is annoyed by the “Americanization” of Maria sha-RA-pova’s name in particular, saying the in vogue (but incorrect) shar-a-PO-va was “an agent’s creation, designed because he thought it would be easier for Americans to pronounce her name that way.” He also dislikes how announcers always butcher the Safin/Safina name. And while on the subject of Dinara, Bud adds, “what a nice kid. She works hard.” He’s glad to see her so much fitter and having so many successes these days.
One of the keystones of Bud’s announcing career is his nicknaming of the game’s top players (a compendium of Bud’s nicknames appears on his website at http://www.budcollinstennis.com/ Asked if he has a favorite moniker from his career, he cites Arantxa Sanchez Vicario’s “The Barcelona Bumblebee.” “It described her court style perfectly,” though he adds that she didn’t realize it was a compliment at first. Shortly after he began using the term, Arantxa confronted him one afternoon and said, “Why do you call me that. What is a bumblebee?” “I asked her if they had bumblebees in Spain, and she said no, so I had to explain to her what a bumblebee was, and how her size and energy made it a good comparison.” To this day, whenever the two of them see each other, instead of hellos, they point a finger at each other, and go “bzzz” as a private token of affection. “She is one of my favorite people from all my years of covering the sport,” Bud says, adding that it was with deep regret that he missed her recent wedding. “But she’s expecting, you know.” After discussing Arantxa (when you talk to Bud, he easily hops from stories about one player to another), he adds that Iva Majoli (“Iva the Diva” in Bud parlance) “has taken very good care of her money,” so fans don’t need to be too worried about her. In a brief discussion on Martina Hingis and the drug suspension following her positive cocaine test at the 2007 Wimbledon Championships, Bud’s voice deepens and takes a far more serious tone then at any other point in our conversation. “The suspension was terribly unfair. Even if she did use cocaine, a two-year suspension is ridiculous. Look at sports like the NFL. For a positive drug test, you get a four-game suspension. Suspending her for two years for what was at worse a mistake was awfully unfair.”
Continuing to talk about players, we ask Bud to name some superlatives. Who was the most entertaining he’s ever seen? “Rafael Osuna,” he replies without a moment’s hesitation. Osuna is the only Mexican in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and won the US Open championship in 1963. “He was a very attractive guy who played with lots of positive energy. Had a tremendous smile. He always gave the crowd a good feeling.” Sadly, Osuna was killed in a Mexicana Airlines crash in 1969. Bud also names Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals among the most entertaining, and of today’s players, calls Rafael Nadal and Jelena Jankovic the most exciting of their generation.
How about the most misunderstood? Bud chuckles. “They all think they are misunderstood.” He then goes on to discuss Ivan Lendl. “I’ll never forget Lendl’s match at Madison Square Garden in the 1981 Grand Prix Masters.” Lendl was playing Jimmy Connors in a preliminary Round Robin match, and was clearly tanking. But throwing the match was actually Lendl’s only option in Bud’s mind. “If he won that match he would have had to play Bjorn Borg in the semis. And Lendl was from a police state and always played a match with the mentality of doing anything to get an edge. By taking a dive the match, he ended up getting his best shot to the final,” which he made by beating Gene Mayer in his semifinal, and earned double what he would likely have had if he won the match. Bud also considers Lendl to have had one of (if not the most) memorable acceptance speeches when he was admitted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2001. “He said little more than ‘thank you,’ and left the podium. It was classic Ivan.”
And who surprised him most with what they were able to accomplish? At last, a question Bud has to think about for a few minutes. “I don’t recall being asked that before, and I love that question. After a pause, he names Rosie Casals. “She was such a little kid, but she could play with anybody.” Then he adds Magnus Norman – “he almost beat Guga on clay. At Paris! I never expected him to do that well at a Slam.” After a few more questions, Bud returns to the topic to add Lindsay Davenport’s name. “To be honest, I never expected her to get into shape like she did.”
(Coming in part two of our story – Bud talks about the players, commentators, and umpires who would come together for his “dream match,” the steps players should take to generate more interest in the sport, his role in the Natasha Zvereva vs. the Soviet federation showdown, and reveals the true story behind the pants).