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Collins Captures Tennis History In New Book

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Collins Captures Tennis History In New Book

By Richard Pagliaro

Bud Collins set out to write the tennis bible and produced a book of revelations for tennis fans. The newly-released Total Tennis: The Ultimate Tennis Encyclopediais undoubtedly the most comprehensive compilation of tennis history ever published.

The book's 938 pages offers player profiles, in depth year-by-year summaries, Grand Slam, Davis Cup and Fed Cup records and results, compilation of year-end top 10 rankings from 1913 to the present, reprints of classic tennis feature stories from the SPORT magazine archives and more than 150 photos. The sheer scope and depth of the volume causes Collins to contemplate concern for his readers: "Will anyone suffer hernia from lifting this tome? I hope not," Collins says.

The Hall of Fame writer has lived much of his adult life in tennis and is a master at bringing the game's history to life in this book. For Collins, the sport is more than a competition, it is a calling and he's eager to share the stories he's written or researched with his readers.

"I wanted to call it 'The Real Tennis' Junkie's Bible', but they (Sport Media Publishing) wouldn't go for it," said Collins in an interview with Tennis Week today. "So we compromised with the Total Tennis title. I think it is the ultimate tennis encyclopedia and I really hope people read it and enjoy it."

The book picks up where Bud Collins' Tennis Encyclopedia — originally published in 1980 and re-published in updated versions in 1994 and 1997 — left off. Total Tennis to tennis fans what Webster's is for writers – the definitive definition of its subject.

"I was hoping to have the book (the Encyclopedia) out every year," Collins said. "That would have been wonderful, but it takes time to revise every year so then I thought every two years and then six years went by and it was getting a little out of date. I started in on this book around Thanksgiving and I worked through until I went to Europe in the spring. I'm on the road most of the time, so I just sat in the press room and wrote. I was fortunate in getting this Canadian publisher and I'm really pleased, overall, with this book."

From the striking cover photo of a sprinting Serena Williams stretching to strike a forehand at the Australian Open the champions, contenders and characters burst from the pages in captivating picture and prose.

In describing McEnroe's five-set triumph over Bjorn Borg in the 1980 U.S. Open, Collins takes you so close to the action you can almost see Borg's taped fingertips tapping his racquet and the sweat seep from beneath McEnroe's headband as he charges toward the net.

"McEnroe jousted with umpires and with a linesman," Collins writes. "He slammed a racquet against his chair and at one stage he felt so strongly about his game that he handed his weapon to Jack Kramer, seated in a courtside box. Borg served with all the assurance of a waiter in an earthquake. He was reported missing missing in action during the second set. He kicked one ball over the net after breaking his racquet on a serve and it was his best-looking shot in several games."

The photos illustrate the grace of the game. Brazilian beauty Maria Bueno balance like a ballerina on toe shoes as she launches herself skyward in a service motion; Rod Laver's left arm is so muscular as he strikes a backhand in makes a pumped-up Popeye look like Olive Oyl in comparison; and a teenage Steffi Graf, still clutching a ball in her left hand as she bends for a low forehand at Roland Garros, wears the focused face of a champion. A classic color photo titled "The Golden Guys" features Jack Kramer, Pancho Segura, Lew Hoad, Pancho Gonzalez, Frank Sedgman, Ken Rosewall, Ashley Cooper, Mal Anderson, Mervyn Rose and Tony Trabert sitting around a table on the patio of the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills looking as relaxed as fraternity brothers. That photo alone is worth the price of the book.

The book features fun facts such as "Who is the the male player who has appeared in the most major singles semifinals (31), but has a losing record in those matches? Answer: Jimmy Connors" and in a chapter titled "The Grand Slam is Born" Collins puts his own personal twist on one of the toughest tennis achievements. The book not only lists the only players who have won the Grand Slam in singles, doubles (did you know that Bueno and Martina Hingis each won a Grand Slam in doubles with two partners?) and mixed doubles, but also lists the 1998 Williams sisters family Slam when the sisters combined to collect a mixed doubles slam and the three-quarter Slam, which lists the 14 players who have claimed three of the four Grand Slam singles titles in a single year.

In addition, the book reprints SPORT magazine stories from esteemed writers such as Dick Schaap, Tony Kornheiser and Joel Drucker. Schaap's story on Pancho Gonzalez, "The Lone Wolf of Tennis" is a fascinating feature.

"I didn't pick those stories," Collins said. "I was happy with some and not happy with some, to be frank."

Collins, who has done daily book signings at the U.S. Open in the past and hopes to sign copies of his new book during the Flushing Meadows fortnight this year, enjoys the interaction he has with tennis fans who have read his books. Though many fans who show up at the signings have never met him, most feel they know him through his work as a tennis writer and television analyst. Collins' connection with tennis fans is fulfilling for him.

"I do a signing every day (at tournaments) and I enjoy that very much," Collins said. "It's a way to have contact with the public. People are always saying 'What are you doing here? Do you have to sell this book?' I say, 'I am working my way through college.' At Newport (for last weekend's Hall of Fame induction ceremony), we sold out of the book so the response was fantastic. People will ask how long it took me to write it and my stock answer is 'Fifty years'."

The book has just hit the shelves of bookstores, but Collins is already contemplating a future edition that would delve even deeper into tennis' past with emphasis on records from the early era of the game.

"To my mind this is a work in progress," Collins said. "I would like to think that if I ever had time to do deeper research than I have done I would have more of the early years and put together some of the early records for players like the Renshaw brothers (Willie and Ernest, whose bios in Collins book credit them with ushering in the attacking era. The pair would win Wimbledon singles and doubles titles). This would be a dream and it would probably never be realized by me, but there are still areas that could have been covered better."

He is a tennis historian and one of the most prolific tennis writers in the history of the sport, yet anyone who has seen Bud bounding around a tournament with all the excited exuberance of a kid cutting school to watch his favorite players compete, can attest to the fact that Collins' energy and enthusiasm for the game has not waned.

"Well, I love it and I always like to see what's coming next," Collins said. "This Wimbledon was fantastic. The first day you've got an all-time story in Ivo Karlovic beating the defending champion Hewitt. When you consider the bookends of Wimbledon — Karlovic starts it with one of the greatest upsets and Navratilova finishes it by winning the mixed doubles title — then you realize what a wonderful Wimbledon it was."

Serena Williams graces the cover of his book, and Collins believes the Williams sisters will leave an indelible mark on tennis history.

"I really feel Serena and Venus could become the greatest players of all time," Collins said. "Greatness is a word I use sparingly; to me 'great' is a sacred word, but I do think they are approaching greatness. Obviously, if they quit tomorrow they'd be in the Hall of Fame. They're special."
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Sounds like an interesting book.

If Bud's looking for material for future editions, he's welcome to visit the Blast From the Past Forum, and particularly the Grand Slam Results Forum. :)
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