The Sporting Scene – abridged reprint from the New Yorker

Budge and the Grand Slam

Budge made a decision that changed the course of his career.  He turned down a chance to be a member of American teams that would be touring in South America and on the Riviera the next winter and spring in favor of working on his game with Tom Stow.

Stow, a graduate of Berkeley, who with Edward Bud Chandler had won the national intercollegiate doubles championship in 1926, was working at the Claremont Country club, and was starting a long and distinguished career as the coach of UC Berkeley’s tennis team.

An intense man, Stow was a perfectionist, but this quality was balanced by ready humor, the ability to get to know his pupils as indivuduals, and with a notalble skill at transmitting to them the mechanics that they had to master in order to play the various strokes properly.  He was of the opinion that golf instruction was far more advanced than tennis instruciton.  In keeping with this, for example, he didn’t tell his pupils to prepare to hit a forehand by first taking the racquet back but, instead, told them to turn their shoulders away from the net.

In his first season with Budge, Stow worked on changing his forehand grip from the Western to the Eastern.  The Western is a severe handicap on grass or any other surface on which the ball takes many low bounces.  That first year, when Budge was trying to get used to his new grip, Stow worked with him mainly on how to get to the net behind a deep ground stroke and how to play the basic volleys once he had gotten there.

“Tom could analyze what you were doig wrong quicker than any other coach I have ever seen. He could point out exactly why your forehand or your serve was inconsistent.  Also, he made the practice sessions fun.  He had the gift of exaggerating in a comical way whichever particular thing you were doing wrong.”

“He tried to get me to hold my weight back until I could shove it forward off my back leg.”  Tom said it was a question of balance.  Using Vines as an example, which he described as a perfect service motion, when he tosses the ball up, his weight is on the rear foot, and as he cocks his elbow and goes to hit he thrusts off his rear leg and gets that body snap and the hips going into it.

One of the most valuable things that Stow taught Budge was how to move forward instinctively on any short ball, play a forcing shot deep, then move into the net to put the return away.  In a Budge match, there were no extended rallies, with the ball crossing the net 20 times or more.  During one of their last practice sessions in 1937 Tom told Don, “I am convinced that you are the best player in the world.  Now you go out and prove that I am right.”


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