2022 Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame: Ted Robinson
Ted Robinson will be inducted into the Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame at the 35th Annual Eastern Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, to be held Friday, August 26, 2022. Proceeds from the event—including ticket sales—will benefit the Junior Tennis Foundation (JTF), which helps provide scholarships to junior and adaptive players across the Eastern Section. You can purchase tickets to the event here. Learn more about the ceremony and the JTF here.
Ted Robinson (pictured, above, with Martina Navratilova) is an acclaimed television broadcaster and commentator. Over the course of his esteemed, four decades-long career, the Queens native has contributed his talents to a wide variety of televised sporting events, including those in professional baseball, basketball and golf, college basketball and football, and 12 (and counting) Olympics. Since 1986, he has served as one of the preeminent voices in tennis, anchoring coverage of multiple Grand Slams and other tournaments across three different networks, often alongside fellow Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame inductees Mary Carillo and John McEnroe.
Robinson, who grew up in Rockville Centre, N.Y., honed in on broadcasting at an early age, after a football injury forced him to think about other ways he could stay involved in sports beyond competing himself. As a senior he called his high school’s football games—which were held at Hofstra University—over the P.A. system; he later chose to attend the University of Notre Dame in part for its vocational opportunities in sports and media. As sports director of the student radio station his final year of college, Robinson ended up calling an away game that would ultimately give birth to a football legend.
“That year, Notre Dame was 1-1 and played its third game of the season at Purdue,” Robinson says. “Notre Dame’s first two quarterbacks got hurt. Out of desperation, the coach had to go to the third string quarterback in the fourth quarter, and that quarterback happened to be named Joe Montana.”
Montana helped Notre Dame come from behind to win the game and then led the team to go undefeated for the rest of the season. That year, they defeated Texas in the Cotton Bowl to capture the national championship.
“To be there to call that Purdue game on student radio was phenomenal,” Robinson says. “It’s a game that has lived in Notre Dame lore forever.”
That Purdue game turned out to be a fairly good indicator of where future four-time Super Bowl champion Montana was headed. It also foreshadowed Robinson’s own eventual place in the zeitgeist, as the man on the call for some of the most memorable moments in sports.
After graduating, Robinson took a series of jobs all over the country. He clocked a few years calling NBA basketball games for the Golden State Warriors, as well as NHL hockey for the Minnesota North Stars. He also established himself as a top baseball broadcaster, serving as an announcer for the Minnesota Twins and the San Francisco Giants. Amid his burgeoning success, in 1986, the USA Network reached out with a question: What about tennis? Robinson, who had primarily been known for baseball at that point, was surprised.
“I said, ‘Well, I know how to keep score and I know all the stars, but I don’t really know the sport,’” he recalls. “They said, ‘We have our tennis analysts in place, we just need somebody who knows television and can steer things.’” In the fall of that year, the network assigned Robinson a tournament in his then-hometown San Francisco as a tryout of sorts. His on-air partners? Former tennis players Carillo and Donald Dell. His first-ever match? An enticing final between Grand Slam champions McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
“When it was over, I turned to Mary and said ‘Wow, that was fun!’” Robinson remembers with a laugh. “She looked at me and said, ‘Hey, kid, they’re not all like that!’”
The tryout went well, and soon Robinson was calling many tournaments for USA. In 1987, the network offered him the opportunity to serve as an announcer for the US Open, a position he’d end up holding for the next 21 years, even as he primarily focused on baseball for much of the 1990s. In this role, he worked alongside Tracy Austin, Carillo, Jim Courier, Vitas Gerulaitis, Billie Jean King, Virginia Wade and many other former champions of the sport. He developed a particularly close bond and partnership with McEnroe, who joined the network’s coverage post-retirement as a commentator in 1992.
“John realized early on that I take my job seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously,” Robinson says. “He liked the fact that he could poke me and I could poke him. Also, ultimately, if I’m doing my job well, I’m the setup guy. I’ve got John McEnroe sitting next to me. It’s not about me. I have to set [him] up. I think John appreciated that about me from the very beginning.”
In 1999, McEnroe—who by that time also called matches for NBC— recommended Robinson to replace outgoing tennis sportscaster Dick Enberg at the French Open and Wimbledon. With this gig, Robinson now guided coverage of three of the four Grand Slams each year on two separate networks, narrating for viewers some of the most notable matches of the 21st century.
“One of the most memorable for me was my first Wimbledon in 2000,” Robinson says. “I got to be in that courtside bunker, the greatest seat in tennis, when Venus Williams won her first major. [After match point], Chris Evert and I heard this pounding. I thought the roof was going to collapse on our heads! It turned out to be Richard Williams in front of the player’s box, on top of our booth—that famous scene of him jumping up and down.”
Robinson was there when both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal won their first slams (at Wimbledon in 2003 and the French Open in 2005, respectively), and he also called the men’s final between the pair at Wimbledon in 2008, a battle that some have argued is the greatest men’s match of all time. Of all the incredible duels he’s seen, however, he holds a special place in his heart for the many US Open contests he has witnessed over the years—particularly the 2001 quarterfinal between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, a high-quality bout held just a few nights before 9/11 that featured four straight tiebreaks.
“Prior to that fourth set tiebreak, all 23,000 people in Arthur Ashe stadium stood and cheered for both of them,” Robinson recalls. “We had two greats playing great at the same time. That’s just so rare in sport and it happened in that match. The fact that the New York crowd understood that and cheered—I’ll never forget that. I still get chills thinking about it.”
These days, Robinson primarily calls tennis matches—including all four majors—on Tennis Channel, a network he’s worked with since 2007. For much of his career, Robinson was primarily a baseball broadcaster who dabbled in tennis. Today, by his own admission, he’s become a tennis broadcaster who dabbles in other sports, and he couldn’t be more thankful for that.
“At the beginning, this was a side gig,” Robinson says. “For some reason, which I’m not equipped to explain, tennis fans felt that I was okay at calling matches. I really had to accept that, say thank you, and go with it.”
He’s especially grateful to be lifted up by all the high-caliber talent sitting next to him in the booth at each tournament.
“Without question, the most pride I take [in this career] is when partners of mine say that they enjoy working with me or that I make them better,” he says. “In tennis, more so than any other sport, the greatest players who played are in commentary. Very few Hall of Fame baseball players broadcast baseball. They do, but not a lot. So to have been with these great champions, with John, Jim, Vitas, Mary, Tracy, Martina [Navratilova], Lindsay [Davenport], a Hall of Fame coach like Paul Annacone, and to have them say in some form, ‘I enjoy working with you’—that’s incredibly humbling. Tennis is living proof for me that you can’t plan life. If you told me at age 13 that I’d be calling all these major championships and working with champions who I consider friends, I’d have laughed at you. But 35 years into it, it’s been the greatest professional reward.”
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