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Tennis Channel’s Steve Flink: Let’s Have A Look

4/22/2010 3:00:00 PM

by Joel Drucker

editors note --On the eve of Steve Flink’s induction to the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame fellow Tennis Channel colleague Joel Drucker shares his reflections on a true tennis “Lifer”.

Hearing the news that my close friend and colleague Steve Flink has been inducted into the Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame triggered a saying tennis folk have for people they hold in the highest regard: he lived his life in the game. 

Steve Flink has lived his life in the game.  Anyone seeking to make a mark in the sport – whether as writer or player, coach or executive – would be well-served to follow his manner of grace and passion, sincerity and kindness.

Of all of this I have deep first-hand experience.  This month marks the 20th anniversary of Steve and I meeting one another professionally.  In April 1990, Steve was precisely where he’d meant to be his entire life.  He was editor of World Tennis magazine, which at the time served tennis zealots in the same way as Tennis Channel does now: a community for aficionados, for people who wore their passion for the sport on their sleeve.  But while Steve had just met me, I’d been fortunate to know him for many years, having read his stories since 1974.  As soon as World Tennis arrived in the mail, Steve’s were the first stories I read – for no one could bring more depth and authenticity to the sport I loved.  Sure, there were other fine writers, at once skilled journalists, nimble with a phrase, intermittently (note: intermittently) proficient in grasping the game’s essence. 

But even before I met Steve, I knew from each word he wrote that tennis was no mere beat or passing fancy.  Like me, he was a lifer.  And to a reader, that kind of commitment from a writer inspires more than interest.  It compels devotion.  Long before Tennis Channel hit the airwaves, Steve’s was the voice of the flock.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve been lucky to spend many hours with Steve chewing over the tennis.  Whether on the phone, over the Internet, in our mutual work for the International Tennis Hall of Fame, or, best of all, in the courtside press seats of a Grand Slam, Steve’s engagement is relentless, enjoyable and supremely thoughtful.

To watch a match with Steve is a treat.  To see him keep track of each point, to engage with him about tactics, emotions, weather, coaches, the draw, comparisons to past matches and players – all this amid a host of others watching the action and tossing in their two cents - is a joy. Alas, in recent times, so many journalists have become even more expert at covering press conferences than matches, at gathering quotes rather than grasping strokes.  Steve remains unsurpassed in his skill at digging inside the lines and unraveling the nuances of any match.

Yet while many journalists see a momentary picture – today’s match and maybe tomorrow’s - Steve sees the whole landscape.  From the court and beyond, Steve grasps the players, the broader tapestry of history and how all the pieces fit together.   Scarcely a writer on the planet could have even undertaken Steve’s great book, The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century – much less pulled it off with consummate brio and élan the way Steve did.

But even those cognitive aspects are only part of Steve’s bigger gift: His generosity.  Like any subculture, tennis is filled with the pompous.  This can be particularly true in the press room, where the singular nature of journalism can lead to as many out-of-whack egos as a national junior tournament. 

Steve couldn’t take on a pretense or turn away an inquiry if his life depended on it.  I have seen other journalists look one another over like pieces of beef carted into a warehouse.  At Steve’s roundtable, the only price of admission is your heart – your willingness to throw yourself into the dialogue about this sport he loves so much.  But be warned: You better be ready to love it too when you’re around Steve.  And why not?     

Joel Drucker works for Tennis Channel as story editor at all the Slams.