This week on Tennis Channel, we're looking back some of the sport's most important players, personalities and moments throughout its colorful history. On Thursday, from 12-3 p.m. ET, Tennis Channel Live will focus on Bud Collins. Here's a preview, and a present-day perspective.

As I was preparing to write this tribute to Bud Collins, memories of the man and his immeasurable impact on tennis started spinning potently through my mind.

He was a singularly influential reporter and commentator who lifted the game into another sphere. He was an immensely gifted communicator, steeped in knowledge about his subject. He was a singular tennis figure, larger than life. With his ever-present sharp wit and infectious smile, he earned the respect of players and press alike for his knowledge, professionalism and incomparable sense of humor. Collins belonged at the center of the tennis universe because the sport was for so long his lifeblood; no one loved it more or took it less for granted.

Outside of an elite cast of players who have transcended tennis, few individuals have done more than Collins to raise the game's profile. He was an astonishingly far-reaching individual who relished being a renowned journalist boosting the popularity of the sport.

He did some remarkable work as a young man, coaching the Brandies University tennis team from 1959 to 1963, and capturing the U.S. Indoor Mixed Doubles title alongside Janet Hopps in 1961. But those were brief sidebars in a larger story. His destiny was not to be a player or a coach, but to write and to commentate with a vivacity no one in his trade could replicate.

A newspaperman for the Boston Herald in the late fifties, he soon landed at the prestigious Boston Globe in 1963, remaining there until near the end of his life in 2016. Another landmark moment for Collins in 1963 was making his debut as a tennis commentator on PBS at the U.S. National Doubles Championships, which was held at his beloved Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, Mass.

He would do some of his finest work for PBS, especially in the 1970s alongside Donald Dell. From 1968 until 1972, Collins was a stellar play-by-play announcer on tennis telecasts for CBS at the US Open before commencing a 35-year stint for NBC at Wimbledon. One of his finest hours was calling the epic Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe Wimbledon final of 1980. He was masterful in not getting in the way of a stupendous occasion while simultaneously informing the viewers as only he could with inimitable clarity and intelligence.

Remembering Bud Collins: We miss him more than he will ever know

Remembering Bud Collins: We miss him more than he will ever know


AP Photo

Through the years, Collins immersed himself in other crucial professional endeavors, writing his first tennis encyclopedia in the late 1970s. He worked on updated editions until the end of his life, and The Bud Collins History of Tennis was perhaps his proudest accomplishment.

I met him in 1969 outside the old press room at the All England Club during Wimbledon. I was 17, and my overriding goal in life was to become a tennis reporter. My father had crossed paths with him many years earlier and he felt I should talk with Collins about my aspirations. We walked up a flight of stairs, knocked on the press room door, and moments later an affable Bud emerged, wearing that reassuring smile that I got to know so well over the next bunch of decades.

My father told him about the career path I had in mind, and he responded warmly, saying something jovial like, “Steve, you chose the right sport to write about. Stick with it. Good luck, and stay in touch.”

I did just that, running into him over the next couple of years at Wimbledon and the US Open. He was always cordial and inquisitive, and then in 1972 he asked me to work behind the scenes with him as a statistician or, as he put it, “aide de camp,” at those two majors. I was well aware that he had a reservoir of knowledge, but fortunately my photographic memory could supplement the stockpile of facts stored in his nimble brain.

From that juncture on into the following decade, I worked frequently behind the scenes on his telecasts. Later on in the eighties, we did some on-air commentary together at Madison Square Garden during the Virginia Slims Championships. Collins would offer constructive criticism about my announcing, and would always urge me to smile when I was on camera. Sometimes he would stand beside the cameraman grinning widely, gently nudging me to do the same.

Meanwhile, bolstered by the reputation I had started to build by working for Bud, I landed a full-time job at World Tennis Magazine in 1974. We shared some memorable experiences in those years, including flying back together from Bucharest to London after the U.S. toppled Romania in the 1972 Davis Cup Final. In that period, he signed his 1975 Evonne Goolagong autobiography for me this way:

“For Stefano Flink, without whom none of us would know who beat whom and where, good friend and companion in numerous countries and my favorite pigeon on court. All the very best, Bud Collins.”

I did indeed take it on the chin from Collins whenever we played. It didn’t matter whether it was the Queen’s Club in London (on clay and grass); Roland Garros on the red clay; indoors in New York; or at Longwood outside Boston. He beat me every time. He was a much better player than most people realized, with quicksilver hands at the net and good feel off the ground. My undoing was when he would chip-and-charge off my second serve and move in swiftly to knife the volley out of my reach. Invariably, I would then start double faulting, which I rarely did against other opponents.

“Steve, remember what Hazel Wightman said,” he would say. “You can’t double fault if you get your first serve in.”

Remembering Bud Collins: We miss him more than he will ever know

Remembering Bud Collins: We miss him more than he will ever know


Getty Images

As a reporter, Collins metaphorically did not miss many first serves over the decades. His standards were high, his objectives clear, his sense of self enduring. He took the sport and its history very seriously. More than anything else, he loved the players; they all appealed to him in different ways and his sense of wonderment about champions from one generation to the next never wavered. Meanwhile, the players revered him as well. No wonder Rod Laver and Stan Smith were ushers at his memorial service in Boston.

“We have always avoided genuine work,” Collins said to me more than once when we were watching compelling matches together in press sections all over the world. “Neither of us has ever held an honest job or worked a day for a living. I hope we can maintain that status.”

That was how he always looked at his life. He knew that practicing a hobby for a job is a fate few have found. But the fact remained that he worked tirelessly at his craft and selflessly helped other journalists to raise their games with timely advice.

The last time I saw him was at the 2015 US Open, about six months before he passed away at the age of 86. He was very frail after a long and debilitating battle with his health, but somehow his indefatigably devoted wife Anita Ruthling Klaussen managed to get him out to New York for the honor of a lifetime. The USTA renamed the press facility “Bud Collins US Open Media Center.” He spoke almost in a whisper, but enjoyed being serenaded by Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon, Billie Jean King, Tracy Austin and USTA President Katrina Adams.

When Adams—a former Top 10 player in doubles—finished her speech, Collins asked her if she was a left-hander. Katrina told him she was not.

“Well, you should have been,” he replied, without skipping a beat.

Right to the end, Collins was one of a kind, quick-witted and amusing, generous to his core, and strikingly collegial for a man of his stature.

We miss him more than he will ever know.

Remembering Bud Collins: We miss him more than he will ever know

Remembering Bud Collins: We miss him more than he will ever know