Don Budge - Honing His Skills
Honing His Skills
Budge clearly showed early prowess, but his technique was unrefined. Frank Perry, the celebrated tennis great, called Budge's undisciplined grip style a "Wild Western" grip and took the young player under his wing to coach him. Budge also worked on his game under Coach Tom Stowe, who focused on changing his grip to an "Eastern" grip and improving his volley.
By the following spring his technique was beginning to match his imposing physical strength. Frank V. Phelps wrote in The Biographical Dictionary of American Sports, "Budge exhibited power, consistency, and no weaknesses at his peak. He devastated opponents by serving and smashing with a slight slice, stroke-volleying deep and hard, and driving hard with minor over spin."
Budge surprised the tennis world at Wimbledon in 1935 by beating the heavily favored Bunny Adams and advancing to a semifinal match against the renowned Baron Gottfried Von Cramm. Von Cramm won the match and so impressed Budge with his courteous manners and steadfast morals that the two became fast friends. The following year, Budge lost at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Nationals to Fred Perry, the number one ranked amateur. He tenaciously hung to the very end at the Forrest Hills match finally losing in 5 sets, including a 10-8 fifth set.
Imposing at 6-foot-1, 160 pounds, the red-haired Budge brought awesome power to bear on his opponents, but ultimately it was his drive to improve his game that made him a champion. Alan Transgrove remarked in The Story of the Davis Cup, "Don Budge's greatness was as much the result of his eagerness to learn and adjust his technique as to his natural talent." Indeed, in January of 1937, when he was already an accomplished player, Budge made a crucial adjustment to his game that paved the way for his incredible domination of the sport. While umpiring a match between two world-class players, he observed that one of the players hit the ball quite hard while his opponent hit very early while the ball was just inches off the ground. The unbeatable combination, Budge mused, would be a player that could hit the ball both hard and early. Working with Coach Stowe, he put his theory into practice.
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