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Don Budge's Forehand: Good Enough for You?

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  • Don Budge's Forehand: Good Enough for You?

    Would love to discuss your thoughts on "Don Budge's Forehand: Good Enough for You?"

  • #2
    Interesting article. Yes, elements of the modern ATP forehand seem to be in Budge's forehand. Just that everything is less extreme.

    Especially not that much laying back of the wrist causing more of a whipping action (stretch-shorten) and not that much of a violent follow through. All a bit more dignified, to go along with the long pants...
    Regards, Phil


    • #3
      Love this article. I really really do.

      It goes back to what I said earlier this year in my latest article when I referred to great technique as 'timeless'. Transcending all eras and stages.

      We have to be careful with the 'modern' and 'classical' debate. Great players will have strokes that stand the test of time. There is nothing wrong with Budge's strokes. Even by today's standards. Most people may get more out of their game if they adopted the strokes and style of Don Budge and not of Nadal, Djokovic, Jack Sock or Kyrgios.

      Don Budge knew what he was talking about long before any of us had any real inkling or idea.

      Kyle LaCroix USPTA
      Boca Raton


      • #4
        It's wonderful to appreciate a golden oldie like Don Budge in this way. I know many coaches who have been around a while would advocate club players use classic technique over modern. It's just simpler and more straightforward to learn and less can go wrong. So many things happen by default just by stepping in with a neutral stance whereas many of these same things don't happen by default with open stances...that's the crux of it.

        One thing we know for sure is Don Budge was very consistent. You have to be incredibly consistent to win as much as he did and in particular to pull off a calendar grand slam. Only Federer and Djokovic in the modern era have had that sort of consistency...and maybe Nadal for a short spell. You have to be truly great to enjoy that kind of consistency over your peers in a sport like tennis.

        I have a racket similar to that which Don Budge would have played with in the 30's. The racket I have was made in the 1930's and has a wooden handle with vertical grooves elegantly carved in it to provide grip. It has a fishtail handle and weighs 15.5 ounces. Getting topspin with it is nothing like as easy as with a modern racket, and it vibrates like mad. I feel when people observe older players they often don't realise this side of things.


        • #5
          I can't say this more briefly. I have to laugh at myself, though:

          How pleasant to see one of the greats treated as something more than a won/lost record and slams winner, though he deserves attention for those.

          I fell into a Budge video obsession about 12 years ago, when I saw a clip showing his first serve. The motion was, I think, very modern. What struck me was that just before launching (throwing down/dropping the tossing arm and extending the legs...he would draw the tossing arm backward a bit ...and then go. So? I'd only otherwise seen Roddick do that to such an extent.

          There are two modern elements that you didn't have time for in your piece, JY: The first is subtle, but observable even in your gifs: Budge would take the racquet back high in forehand prep, but then just before bringing the racquet down and forward he would open the racquet face slightly but consistently. His grip was relatively firm due to the weight of the racquet. So who cares? He was taking a small bit of external rotation of the upper hitting arm...which cause the face to open. That's modern, if understated.

          Does he use internal rotation into the hit? I think it's obviously the -main- thing he does into contact. You can clearly see his upper arm rotate at and through contact. The external and internal rotation can both be seen in the second GIF.

          The other interesting and modern element is what he does with the off arm, his left arm. First, accept for the moment that what all top pros do today with their off arm is this: they extend their off arm toward the sideline. (Federer doesn't really straighten his until the swing if ever.) Why? First it is a check on upper body rotation. Mainly, though, it prepares for the swing leftward. That swing is to put momentum into the arm through radial motion.

          Exactly at the instant the player wishes upper body rotation to kick in, and the racquet hand pull out to begin, he pulls the off arm elbow in hard. This forces the upper body to accept the momentum, which is of course a happy thing. Then, just into contact, the player typically lifts the off arm forearm a bit. This forces the hitting shoulder and arm to rise into contact. The form of this bit is fairly universal among the men over the last twenty-five years. But there was an exception to this motion as I've described it, and as Agassi, Sampras, and Federer et al employed it.

          That exception was the five-time finalist and three-time winner of the US Open, Ivan Lendl. He did not perform the left arm maneuver as described above, a maneuver crafted to turn the off arm into a rotation and contact-power contributor. No. He didn't. He alone among the top players did that bit exactly like... Don Budge did.

          Lendl would send his straight left arm leftward as he dropped the racquet to prepare for rotation launch. When he was about to launch he would swing his left arm down to the body in a clear loop. Swinging it down toward the center of rotation gave the same boost as the elbow pull in of Sampras or Federer, transferring momentum to the UB.

          Then Lendl timed that loop so that it kept going....and lifted the forearm rightward and then up and out a bit...with the same effect as the contemporary little left forearm lift into contact.

          You can see a bit of this last move in the seventh GIF, but that GIF cuts off just as the bottom loop would swing back to the right and lift.

          You can copy this technique yourself as an amusement, and you will find that properly timed it performs as advertised. The accelerated left arm will kick your UB rotation when you pull it downward, inward. And if you smooth make the loop by your left leg and lift the left forearm, you'll get the hitting shoulder/racquet boost up to the ball.

          If we aren't foolish we build on the foundations of our predecessors. They had bodies just like ours, and even heavier racquets were subject to the same physics. No?
          Last edited by curiosity; 12-06-2015, 07:53 PM. Reason: To add an apology


          • #6
            I've got plenty of time..but that's why we post the images--to encourage thoughts and analysis and response that maybe I didn't notice (or to be completely honest...) found relevant. And others do and point them out and then we all learn!


            • #7
              Originally posted by johnyandell View Post
              I've got plenty of time..but that's why we post the images--to encourage thoughts and analysis and response that maybe I didn't notice (or to be completely honest...) found relevant. And others do and point them out and then we all learn!
              John, I suppose I expect any post to be examined under a microscope, so I try to be thorough. But I could have just said "sure Budge's forehand is good enough for me. Effective use of both arms, some external rotation in the prep, internal rotation into contact, fabulous placement...what's not to like?" Laugh.


              • #8
                Don Budge Tennis Camp 1972

                During the summer of 1972, I had the great privilege of working at the Don Budge Tennis Camp in Maryland. Mr. Budge was at the camp nearly everyday, and I had the great fortune of playing doubles with him and against him. He was 57 at the time and still playing tournament tennis at Wimbledon in the senior doubles event. I will never forget the first time I attempted to volley a ball he had struck with his miraculous backhand! It felt like a flying brick had hit my strings. At that time I was playing Division 1 college tennis, and I had never encountered such a heavy ball. However, what really impressed me was his forehand. During the early 1970's, most of the top players like Laver, Ashe, and Rosewall had better backhands than forehands. Mr. Budge's forehand was just as extraordinary as his backhand. I believe one of the reasons I enjoy watching Roger Federer play so much is that he reminds me of Mr. Budge.

                Norman Ashbrooke


                • #9
                  Okay, Norm.


                  • #10
                    I really enjoy curiosity's discussion of two different uses of left hand among players and his pointing out that J. Donald opened racket face a bit from an eastern grip. That little opening of strings indicates to me that this shot can be hit from a composite grip without one having to learn to open. Just another choice, another expansion of opportunity that no one need do but could if they had reason to and wanted to (like me). And I have to notice that J. Donald keeps adjustment foot (the rear foot) flat for about half of his forward swing. Ever clever men, J. Donald and his brother Lloyd. Sorry, Nick Kyrgios, I don't predict as great a career for you as the commentatoes do. We'll see.
                    Last edited by bottle; 12-16-2015, 05:29 AM.


                    • #11

                      Wow first hand on the end of the Budge forehand. Envy that. I wonder if you think his grip which had the palm fully behind the handle was a factor??


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by johnyandell View Post

                        Wow first hand on the end of the Budge forehand. Envy that. I wonder if you think his grip which had the palm fully behind the handle was a factor??
                        I do think that solid push on the ball is what this shot is all about-- not just from self-experiment but from what Steve has repeatedly said about it knocking him back.

                        But composite grip besides eastern still puts enough flesh behind the handle maybe depending on size of one's palm vs. size of handle. I've tried to personalize grip more and more by always placing bent thumb on a sharp ridge but frequently on a different sharp ridge. The only time this has seemed to hurt me is about the fourth hit in a rapid fire volley exchange. I then, after missing the shot, looked down and saw that my thumb had reverted to a wrap. Solution: Put ball away by third hit or practice volley exchanges until can do them with thumb in the different position.

                        Banking in addition to good body turn makes either this shot or the straight-wristed thing I'm presently doing a real body shot rather than an arm-and-body shrunk-wrapped Federfore which I also love. (I know, I know-- new questions arise.) But to stick to the subject, I don't even like to imagine sequence between the hips and shoulders much less between a flip and a wipe. The hips are turning as the shoulders bank down then powerfully return to's all one body shot with good extension.

                        Here's where I saw the flat rear foot to heel rise sequence ( and must have heard something along that line somewhere before. The repeating video that shows it is the second one. Then I tried this and was surprised. Then I looked at these videos of Don Budge and saw that he did it before Dennis Ralston.

                        -- Normal
                        Last edited by bottle; 12-17-2015, 02:41 AM.


                        • #13

                          It is fascinating to observe the many commonalities between the bio-mechanics of the mid 20th Century and those of the present day. This is not really surprising. Many good athletes--who are also highly observant--are able to utilize the powerful, cycling visual and kinesthetic feedback loop to forge strokes that result in that which we all seek and treasure: the grail of controlled power. Simplified--all of these "good" strokes rely on power coming from the ground up, backwards rotation, upward movement of the racquet, forward rotation with weight transfer, and lastly various forms of extension, classic, wiper, and reversed--as you so aptly point out. Moreover, within this subset of players with these good, timeless fundamentals, there arise infinite, unique variations based on differing bodies, psyches and predominant emotional states. And so as any given "accomplished" player incorporates these basics into their stroke production they express and combine them in a myriad of slightly different ways. It is the same with golfers. Wouldn't it be boring if you went to a pro tennis or golf tournament and every forehand, backhand, serve or golf swing were identical? Don't worry. It will never happen.

                          J.Y.:When I moved to the Bay Area in 1974 I was told that a legendary Bay Area teaching pro (whose name I can no longer recall) taught those famous strokes to Bay Area Budge back in the day. And he also taught the nearly great Gil Howard the same essential movements several decades later. And I later learned a lot about hitting forehands and backhands just by studiously watching my former boss, Gil. And thusly technique is transmitted generationally. Unfortunately, I never amounted to much as a player. I guess it must be my mental game. I think I'll sign up for more therapy! Seriously.
                          Last edited by johnyandell; 12-21-2015, 08:38 PM.


                          • #14
                            I love old clips of Budge & contemporaries. I've watched his training film multiple times -- great stuff. I also recommend a great book about Budge, A Terrible Splendor. It would be interesting for you to do a similar article on his backhand. They all hit very flat back then but Budge came over the ball a little more than others to great effect. Are the seeds of the modern one handed backhand visible in Budge's stroke? When we imagine how the old guys would fare today we tend to think of them in modern conditions. But try imagining how Djokovic would do with a wood racquet on bad grass. Fantastic, no doubt, but still not as well as with his modern stick & strings.


                            • #15
                              Western to Eastern!

                              A very interesting aspect of the Budge forehand is that he converted it from a Western forehand to an Eastern forehand relatively late in his tennis development. He won the U.S. 18 and under championships with a Western forehand and then went on to play the Eastern grass court summer circuit. He found the Western to not be as effective as on hard courts, due to the lower bound of the grass courts. The famed Bay area tennis coach Tom Stow worked with Don to convert Don's forehand from a Western to an Eastern. I think that resulted in the Budge forehand looking a little more "studied" than the glorious totally natural backhand - but the forehand is still terrific.


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