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Home   News   Tebbutt: “BUD”

Tebbutt: “BUD”

Mar 04, 2016
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt
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Bud Collins suffered through many surgeries and medical ordeals in the last few years of his life, so it’s nice to be able to see this picture of him in the late 1970s coming off the French Open Court Central looking so vigorous and full of life.

Collins was working for CBS at the time and had done some sort of interview and was interacting with people in the press section and/or presidential tribune as he exited the court.

He died on Friday in Boston at age 86.

It is difficult for tennis followers nowadays to understand just how big Collins was during the tennis boom years in the 1970s, as well as on into the 1980s, 1990s and beyond. There was no social media then so Bud Collins was on TV or writing for publications such as the Boston Globe and World Tennis magazine, and gained such remarkable notoriety that millions of Americans and Canadians identified professional tennis with him.

He loved the game and was happy to get an assignment to cover the sport during his early days as a reporter at the Boston Globe. In the baby-steps days of tennis on television, he and agent Donald Dell had a great gig on PBS (Boston affiliate WGBH) covering Monday night finals of summer tournaments in places like Louisville, Toronto, Indianapolis, Washington, Columbus and Boston.

From CBS he soon moved on to NBC where he personified the game for about 20 years until John McEnroe gradually took over as the network’s most identifiable on-air presence.

The Collins legend was built on his love for the sport. He wanted to make it exciting for viewers and fans and thus he would excitedly blurt out “net cord” while commentating whenever a ball nicked the net in a rally or “buggy whip” when Aussie star John Newcombe ran to his right and finished his forehand with a whip-like follow through.

It’s interesting to note that McEnroe once asked Collins on air if it was “let cord” or “net cord” when the ball ticked the net during a rally. Collins, who wrote the ultimate tennis reference “The Bud Collins Encyclopedia of Tennis” quickly informed McEnroe that it was the latter.

Something that should be noted about Collins regarding McEnroe and his fellow bad actor Jimmy Connors, he was one of the few established reporters who was courageous enough to criticize their behaviour when they were at the height of their careers. Many journalists weren’t willing to risk alienating two huge superstars but Collins had the guts to call them out when it was justified.

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Photo: Art Seitz

Most important about Bud (pictured left in his Wimbledon ‘strawberry’ pants, which have been left to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport) over his whole career was how approachable and generous he was with his colleagues. He had the uncanny ability to remember people’s names and the lowliest man or woman in press work rooms around the world would be flabbergasted on a second meeting to have him call them by their first name.

Yours truly was fortunate enough to first meet Collins at Roland Garros in the late 1970s. In 1985, we both made our first trip to the Australian Open at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club. He actually went that year thinking it was his last chance to see the event at Kooyong on grass before it moved to its current site at Melbourne Park. (Note: The new site was then known as Flinders Park and when the local governments eventually changed the name to Melbourne Park – better for international recognition – Collins, with his wit and gift for the bon mot, insisted on continuing to call it “Formerly Flinders.”) That year, 1985, was actually the second last year before the move was made to the new site in January, 1988.

In 1994, I was lucky enough to be Bud’s seatmate – we shared a two-person desk – in the workroom at the Australian Open. I can recall an endless stream of people coming by to ask him for an interview or for some information or just to say hello. He cheerfully and unfailingly accommodated everyone. Then on the final afternoon at about 3 p.m. when the men’s final was on or soon to begin, a reporter from some eastern European country arrived and asked Bud for an interview. He apologized and said he could not because he was too busy with the final and added that he wished the fellow had come by earlier. I remember thinking that I was actually happy he had finally said no to someone – laughing to myself that he was indeed human and every now and then had to think about himself.     

That tournament seated beside Bud earned me the nickname “Rooms” for roommate and he always called me that. In return, I called him “Arturo” because his actual first name was Arthur.

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Two years later at Wimbledon, I was seated in the same row in the press writing room as Bud and several other American writers. One night, working late as usual, I was the last one out of the row and noticed that Bud had left his computer on his desk. He often had to dash off to do television so it was understandable that he might leave from the TV compound and forget about his workplace in the press area. So I stowed his computer overnight and left him a note on his desk. In the morning, I arrived to find the note pictured above on my desk.

The Bud Collins legend was built on his enthusiasm and generosity, and it’s probably impossible to find anyone in the tennis media worldwide who would say a bad word about him – he was amazing at recognizing and greeting reporters from even the most obscure outposts of the sport.    

About 10 years ago, I did a story for the Australian Tennis Magazine about a few prominent reporters and how they tracked tennis matches. Below is an example of how Bud recorded a match – Rafael Nadal’s memorable 2009 Australian Open 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-7(1), 6-4 semi-final win over Fernando Verdasco.

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 Below is what I wrote about his method:

A legendary writer/ broadcaster, Collins first covered tennis in 1955, and has filed stories about the game for the Boston Globe since 1963.

One of the revered figures on the tour, his illustrious career in television and journalism earned him a place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

“I try to get in what I consider are the important points at the time,” Collins said about approach to recording matches. “I’ve added to it all the time.”

He uses a red pen for break points and match points. The straight red line before the server’s initial, for example in the last game before VL46, means Verdasco was broken and lost the set 4-6.

The first point of that game is a BHN (backhand into the net), with a dot before it to indicate the first serve was missed, which makes it 015 or love-15.

In between in brackets is 27, the stroke count in the rally. On many points, Collins has an internal counter that runs subconsciously and produces the number of hits in a rally.

His nomenclature is notably straightforward – A is an ace and DF is a double fault. For example, on the second point of the last game ‘FHCCR gets a FHE’ means that a forehand cross-court return gets a forehand unforced error.

At the bottom, Collins wrote 5:14, the length of the match, and ‘Aussie record.’ He also noted the amount of miles covered by Nadal (2.1) and Verdasco (1.9) as well as the fact that Nadal wept and that the Friday night match ended after midnight at ‘0007’ on Saturday.

Below all that are the stats from the match.

Renowned for his broad tennis knowledge, Collins has a keen wit and a naturally inventive mind, which makes it easy to understand why he is the person credited with coming up with the term “moonball.” 

Bud Collins grew up in Berea (a suburb of Cleveland), Ohio, which is across Lake Erie from Canada and not that far from Toronto. In his boyhood, when he was 12 or so, he won a spelling contest and once remembered that two of the words he spelled correctly were “faucet” and “chauffeur.” The prize for the win was a trip to Toronto.

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Photo: Art Seitz

All the people who have been in press rooms and media seats at tournaments can regale listeners with stories about Bud and the things he said and did – such as playing tennis barefoot on grass (see picture above). I can recall seeing him playing barefoot on grass at the Wimbledon Club, which is right across Church Road from the All England Club. He also did so regularly at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston where he was a longtime member.

One of my favourite Bud expressions was “creaky elbow” – just a perfect description of the tension a player feels in his or her arm when the pressure mounts at crunch-time in a match.

Another dates back to the 1994 Australian Open. American Todd Martin played Xavier Daufresne of Belgium, a marginal player, in the round-of-16. I kind of hoped Daufresne would win because in those days a quarter-final in a Grand Slam would almost insure you of a spot in the year-end Grand Slam Cup and $100,000 (U.S.) for just showing up. I knew that would mean a whole lot to Daufresne – career prize money $232,355 – and not so much to Martin – career prize money $8,232,355.

Anyway, Martin won 6-7(3),7-6(5), 6-3, 6-3.

It was an excruciatingly hot day in Melbourne and Bud came up with one of his all-timers that day – he labeled Martin “hot Toddy.”

In the 2003 tennis documentary “She Got Game,” Bud is interviewed and says, “I keep saying to my wife ‘what are we doing this for? We’ve seen them all. Why don’t we stay home, sit in the backyard, smoke dope’…no we don’t say that. But…it’s an addiction. You want to know – I want to know what’s around the corner.”

In a tennis life that lasted a full five sets, Arthur ‘Bud’ Collins made “what’s around the corner” informative and fun for fans and friends all over the world.