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Bud Collins saw her coming—a fan, obviously trolling for autographs—and he readied himself. The big, easy smile flicked on, and he accepted the tennis-racket cover she extended.
"Could you do me a favor?" the woman asked.
"Certainly," Collins replied, taking her pen.
"Could you get Fred Stolle to autograph this for me?"
He managed a blink as the smile soured, then wheeled away without a murmur and took the racket cover to Stolle, captain of the Australian World Cup tennis team. "Thanks so much," the woman said as he returned. "Oh, and could you sign it, too? We watch all your programs."
The lighthouse-beacon smile returned. He autographed the cover and handed it to her. "We're on nationwide today, you know," he said.
Arthur Worth (Bud) Collins Jr. seems to be on national television nowadays with the regularity of Alka-Seltzer commercials. Bald, 46 and a mile or two short of handsome, Collins has emerged as the indispensable man of an increasingly visible game; he is to tennis what snow is to the Winter Olympics, what pasta is to Italy.
When the lady with the racket cover strained his humility, Collins was in Hartford, Conn. to broadcast the World Cup, an event he helped create seven years ago. He's in Hawaii this spring announcing the head-to-head matches billed as the Challenge Cup. He'll be in Dallas for the WCT finals, at Wimbledon for the strawberries and cream and at Forest Hills for the U.S. championships. Collins logs more miles on the tennis tour than the most traveled pro. He knows everyone and whether they've been bad or good, and he remembers 86% of what he's seen, which is all the tennis of consequence in the past two decades. He even likes everyone, which is ridiculous.
He likes Ilie Nastase, for example. Liking Nastase is not impossible, to be sure, but it's not easy, either. And it was harder than average for Collins, especially after they had dinner one night in Australia.
"All during the meal he kept saying, 'Hey, Collini'—he always calls me Collini—'look over there.' And like a jerk I'd look over there. And every time I looked away he was salting my food—the meat, the coffee, everything—and I didn't know it. He said, 'You'll never get cramps, Collini,' and I couldn't figure out what he was talking about. Finally he did it to the chocolate mousse and I finally got it. My dinner was ruined, but he had a great time. He wasn't really malicious. He'd just say, 'Ah, Collini,' and what could you do? He's a child-man."