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Hall of Fame tennis journalist Bud Collins dead at 86

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Venus Williams and sister Serena Williams are interviewed by Bud Collins at the DIRECTV ESPN US Open Experience promoting DIRECTV's mosaic coverage of the US Open August 26, 2009 at Bryant Park in New York Cty. (Rob Tringali/Getty Images for DirecTV)

BROOKLINE, Mass. – Bud Collins, the legendary tennis writer who was the first newspaper scribe to regularly appear on sports broadcasts, died Friday. He was 86.

Collins was beloved for his cheerful and enthusiastic coverage of a sport he covered for almost 50 years.

Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated writes of him: “He covered the sport like no one before or since. Funny but smart. Sometimes earnestly, other times lightheartedly.”

Collins literally wrote the history of tennis — a book entitled “The Bud Collins History of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia and Record Book.”

Other tennis writers who had a question about the sport’s history or the significance of an event would rely on Collins. He himself was an encyclopedia.

He covered every major event many times but was especially known for his stories from Wimbledon, which he called “the really and truly tennis championship of the universe, according to the newspaper where he began in late 1963, the Boston Globe.

According to the paper, he first did some extra reporting for Boston’s WGBH-TV after he joined the Globe. In 1968, Collins provided tennis commentary for CBS Sports, but switching to NBC four years later. He worked for the Peacock Network for 35 years. In 2007 he joined ESPN but in recent years had been in declining health.

Last year the United States Tennis Association named the media center for the U.S. Open in his honor.

“Bud was larger than life, and his countless contributions to the sport helped to make it the global success that it is today,” the USTA said. “Bud was a mentor to many, and a friend to many more.”

Tennis players knew they were big time when Collins wanted to interview them. He then went on to form first-name basis relationships with the greats of the game.

Chris Evert wrote on Twitter: “Integrity, passion, intelligence, wit, compassion. … Friend… I, like many, will miss you terribly … RIP Bud Collins.”

It was Evert who walked off the court after one particularly tough loss at Wimbledon and said, “Nice pants, Bud.”

Collins often wore trousers that “seemed like they could glow in the dark,” his bio on the International Tennis Hall of Fame site says. The fabric came from his extensive world travels over the decades.

He was born in Lima, Ohio, in June 1929 and went to Baldwin Wallace College (now Baldwin Wallace University) in Berea. In 1959, he moved to Boston where he enrolled in graduate school at Boston University.

Collins wrote part-time for the Boston Herald and also coached the Brandeis tennis team before taking his job with the Globe.

He wasn’t just a tennis columnist, though. He also wrote travel features and covered Muhammad Ali when he was still known as Cassius Clay. In 1967 he followed the Red Sox to a World Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

For a time he also covered politics.

Still, it was the sport of kings where Collins was prolific with his zippy prose.

The Globe quoted a paragraph from his last piece, a story from 2011 about Serena Williams at the Open.

“Sister Serena is back. Bold, blasting, and bell-ringing — a woman with a cause to turn the world upside down as her property once again,” he wrote.

Billie Jean King proclaimed that Collins was a person of rare significance.

Her words echo what New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica wrote in 2015.

“It is worth saying again today that no media figure ever meant more to any sport than Bud Collins has to tennis,” Lupica wrote.

Collins is survived by his wife, photographer Anita Ruthling Klaussen, a daughter, seven stepchildren and 11 grandchildren, according to the Globe. No cause of death was given.

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