My Point column: Joel Drucker, the Federer of tennis journalists

Joel Drucker, right, in 1975 with his father, Alan.

Courtesy photo

Joel Drucker, right, in 1975 with his father, Alan.

Interviewing Joel Drucker, for me as a columnist, was like interviewing Roger Federer — both are legends in and of the professional sport of tennis — Roger’s unmatched accomplishments on the court and Joel’s recording and reporting of its rich history with articulate, inspiring journalism.

It wasn’t until he graduated from college in 1982 that he set his sights on a future within the game, and Joel said he truly committed in a major way to tennis after being fired from a job with Inside Tennis later that summer. “I was watching the U.S. Open in my late wife’s (Joan) apartment in Oakland on a 12-inch black and white TV.  Tony Trabert was announcing, and I said to her, ‘I want to be a part of that world.’  Her response was, ‘Don’t you see, you already are.’”

It’s just a matter of defining yourself, he recognized.

Soon after that, he spent 10 years working for public relation firms, writing tennis pieces around his full time job, until he was laid off — a real turning point.

Drucker, who lives in Northern California and travels about one-third of the year, picked up his first racquet around the age of 12, shortly after moving from the East Coast to the West.  The tennis boom of the ’70s was in full swing — “When the game was cool,” he said.

I was curious as to how he creates the type of pieces he writes. “To me, its all about angles and ideas — it’s more about perceiving the idea than writing it.  I have to have something interesting and untapped to bring the reader.”

And that he does, now covering the majors, author of the book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life; writer-researcher for Tennis Channel; and almost every other notable tennis outlet... Tennis, ESPN, CBS and USTA magazine. 

His most recent accolade is as the first “Historian-At Large” with John Barrett of Great Britain for the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  Drucker and Barrett — an inductee in 2014 — will promote and preserve the history of the game through its fascinating stories, oral interviews and other innovative projects.

When not working and off the road, Drucker plays a mean game of tennis about four to five days a week saying, “I like to play a lot.  I’m a very good tactician and believe each player has at least one positive genetic gene and mine is a gene of disruption.  Others will not play well against me because I disrupt their normal ways.” His other burn-out remedies are reading and sleeping, saying “that upon return from a major tournament, it takes about 10 days to get back in the groove.”

When Drucker was 12, his older brother told him, “If you spent a little less time reading about tennis and a little more playing, you might become a decent player some day.”  Joel today, having attended and later instructed at Trabert’s tennis camp in his youth, is a 4.5-level player. 

Who would he have liked to interview if they were still alive?  “The invincible Maureen Connolly, fondly known as ‘Little Mo’ (after the battleship Missouri) - who in 1953 won all four majors at the age of 18.  In ’54, she won the French and then Wimbledon — she was taken out of the game shortly after that in a horse-riding/truck accident.  She later died of cancer at the age of 34.”

There’s hardly a living tennis legend he hasn’t interviewed or written about the last 30 years and with the schedule he maintains and all the jobs he juggles, life at times must seem a blur.

Does he think the game is going in the right direction? “It does the best it can as an organized yet fractured entity.

“Unlike many other sports that have commissioners and league presidents, tennis is made up of many separate organizations that do their best to come to terms with one another.”

Joel told me he’s not a deadline  guy, “The faster I jump on a project, the more of them I can do — it’s tradeoffs and balance between work, time, money and living life.”

He’s in good company and at the top-of-his-game, surrounded by other great tennis journalists like his good friend Steve Flink, Richard Evans, Jon Wertheim, Peter Bodo, Steve Tignor, and others.

I asked him his thoughts on the four majors and what he liked about each: “Wimbledon, is powerful, incredible — everyone who can should go there at least once, the Australian is the most friendly and gives a nice feeling, the French is exotic, a neat flavor — not to mention the physicality of the clay courts is riveting — and the U.S. Open to me is very personal and long-standing due to all the time I’ve spent there.”

Currently in the works for Mr. Drucker is a book about his late wife, Joan, and their life together.  I’m sure it will chronicle their 28 years together with interesting stories in and around the world of tennis and the many trials and tribulations life gives.

Future goals?  “I don’t like goals,” he stated, “I like visions.”  I asked about a possible trip to Prescott, to which he said: “Get me a gig and a game and I’ll do my best to work it into my crazy life — I’d love to meet all the people there — it sounds like a fun time.”

Good luck in the future, Joel, our new international tennis connection and friend.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry.  He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@gmail.com.