In Memoriam: Bud Collins
Colourful media legend was walking encyclopedia of tennis; made mark on sport in print, on air
Bud Collins, the multi-faceted wordsmith who for more than five decades was as synonymous with the world of professional tennis as Breakfast At Wimbledon and the Continental grip, passed away on March 4 at his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 86.
A singular figure in his signature Day-Glo slacks and bow ties, baldpate and seemingly ever-present smile, Collins remains the most recognisable media personality the game has ever known. Equal parts broadcaster/writer/historian, he helped popularise the sport and for his efforts was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1994, joining only a handful of journalists enshrined at the Newport Casino, including Allison Danzig, Al Laney, Lance Tingay and David Gray.
Harvey Araton wrote in the New York Times, “In the press box, Collins was Google before it existed.”
Fellow broadcaster Dick Enberg once told Chris Evert, “Bud Collins remembers more about your life than you do.”
The tennis industry was quick to weigh in on Collins' passing. Said Donald Dell, "You can’t say enough about him because in the '70s, '80s, he was a big promoter of tennis and was a hell of a commentator. He was by far and away the best historian of the sport. Bud was a very good writer and commentator and he always wanted to bring a different dimension to the audience. He was the best, period.”
"Bud made such a huge impact on our sport because he was one of the most knowledgeable people in tennis and he was so committed to always learning more about the sport and its characters," said International Tennis Hall of Fame President Stan Smith. "By combining his knowledge with his one-of-a-kind colour, he really made the game fun and interesting for the fans and the players. He was responsible for growing interest in our sport tremendously.”
Born in Lima, Ohio, on the eve of the Great Depression on June 17, 1929, Arthur Worth Collins, Jr. graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College and went on to serve with the U.S. Army. While a graduate student at Boston University in 1959, he began a five-year stint coaching the men’s tennis team at nearby Brandeis University. Among his players was future social activist/anti-war icon Abbie Hoffman. He officially launched his tennis journalism career in 1963, when he joined the Boston Globe, and later worked his way into radio with Boston’s PBS affiliate WGBH.
Collins broke into television with CBS Sports in 1968, regularly joined in the broadcast booth by serve-and-volley extraordinaire Jack Kramer. In 1972, Collins moved over to NBC, where he would become a staple over the next 35 years. Generations of Americans welcomed him into their living rooms through the tennis-boom years of the 1970s and beyond via his Breakfast At Wimbledon broadcasts, as NBC brought live coverage of the fortnight across the Atlantic. Collins made us feel as if we there alongside him at the All England Club, and he was as much a part of the most prestigious of the four Grand Slams as a tumbler of Pims or a bowl of strawberries and cream.
He developed a unique rapport with players that allowed him to go beyond the usual post-match fodder. After falling to longtime rival Martina Navratilova in the Wimbledon final, Evert famously quipped, “Nice pants, Bud.” Before Collins could get off a question to Pam Shriver in 1978, the future Hall of Famer insisted, “First, turn off those pants.”
NBC cut ties with Collins in 2007, but he remained on the scene, working with ESPN and the Tennis Channel, while continuing to contribute to the Globe. At the 2011 US Open, he suffered a fall in his New York hotel room and was unable to cover the second week of the event. Although he was less visible in the ensuing years, in 2015, he attended his 61st U.S. Open along with his wife, the photographer Anita Ruthling Klaussen. He has covered more Grand Slam events than any other American reporter.
Also an accomplished player, Collins won the U.S. Indoor mixed doubles championship (with Janet Hopps) in 1961, and was a French Senior doubles finalist (with Jack Crawford) in 1975. He delighted in playing barefoot.
While Collins’ vibrant personality made him an ideal fit for TV, it was perhaps in his writing that his talent shone through the most. His prose often spoke as loudly as did his trademark Technicolor attire. He is credited with coining a host of player nicknames, including Basher of Belleville (Jimmy Connors), Bucharest Buffoon (Ilie Nastase), Fraulein Forehand (Steffi Graf), Ice Maiden (Evert) and Lithuanian Lion (Vitas Gerulaitis). In addition to his work with the Boston Globe, he authored three books, The Education of a Tennis Player, Evonne On the Move, and My Life with the Pros. In 1999, the Associated Press presented him with the Red Smith Award for his contributions to sports journalism. He was elected to the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame in 2002.
A cub reporter approaching his first-row desk in the media center at the US Open — a facility now named in his honor — would find an accommodating sage who regardless of deadline was rarely too busy to offer an obscure tennis factoid or a go-to quote, or even sign the latest update of his Tennis Encyclopedia, as essential a desk-side companion for tennis writers as a thesaurus or the AP Stylebook.
When the United States Tennis Association (USTA) unveiled the Bud Collins US Open Media Center last summer, Patrick McEnroe reflected, “He was so far ahead of his time in understanding that tennis was a great game, but that tennis also needed to be entertaining, and make the personalities and players entertaining. His passion for the game was second to none.”
ATPWorldTour.com presents a sampling of Collins’ colorful quotes from over the years:
• “The Bryans aren’t surface-nervous. Put them on flypaper, peanut brittle, steaming coals, a plowed field.”
• “Looking like a guy at a fraternity party (green madras Bermudas, polo shirt, baseball cap labeled ‘G — National Champs’), John Isner is as happy as a keg-tapper.”
• “I'd say he went from punk to paragon.” — On Andre Agassi
• “Federer left town feeling as though he’d fallen down the Spanish Steps, wondering if he’d encountered a lion left over from the Coliseum.” — After Italy’s Filippo Volandri upset Roger Federer at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Rome in 2007
• “Whenever I think about Timothy Henry Henman the Crimean War comes to mind, and I picture him as the latter day, one-man Charge of the Light Brigade. Into the Valley of Centre Court he bursts: Roddick to the right of him, Hewitt to the left of him, Federer in front of him volleying and thundering. Stormed at with shots from hellish racquets. Is he ever dismayed? Never. His is not to reason why…but to do or be hung out to dry…Charging gallantly, failing nobly. ‘Our Tim’ nonetheless.”
• “My uncle always described an unforced error as his first marriage.”
• “Rodney the L is what’s happening in tennis these days. He goes into the Longwood veldt this afternoon to resume a rain delayed pursuit of another professional singles championship, and if he wore a top hat you’d think he was Mandrake the Magician. Instead he’ll be wearing a crinkled white cloche that looks as though a flapper had slept in it. It was probably willed to him by Clara Bow, but it does the job…His eyes seem like a pair of blueberries in a tureen of borscht.” — On Rod Laver
• “It’s the only tropical forest in the Northern Hemisphere.” — On rainy Wimbledon