The Tennis Curmudgeon


Don Budge Mocked

So what does being a tennis legend get you, really?

If you know your tennis, you know Don Budge.

For the rest, he was the first player to win the Grand Slam – in 1938.
Notable, you’ll agree.

And if that isn’t enough, ESPN’s “Sports Century” history tome gave Don Budge a bio which ended with Bill Tilden, who you should also know, calling Don Budge “the finest player 365 days a year who ever lived.”

Of course, I met Don Budge in high school when my parents generously – TOO generously, some would say – sent me to The Don Budge Tennis Campus to learn, well, something.

Did I show promise in tennis?

No.

Were we so wealthy that I really belonged with the sports stoners and future mid-level managers of America in this – not camp, you’ll note, but campus?

No.

They just wanted me to do something other than watch TV, eat food, etc., and I’d shown interest in tennis, though no talent for it.

So at The Don Budge Tennis Campus I got to be grouped with the worst. Where we clearly had the most fun, laughing at awful serves returned with why-bother backhands. And where we were taught the basics. Which I promptly forgot.

But during my time at this campus, I couldn’t help notice that the repeat visitors got a laugh at the old pro’s demonstrations.

(Being rich, the repeat visitors were, of course, often stoned, so they’d laugh at a lot of things, few of them funny.)

Don Budge would illustrate the wrong way to serve or hit a backhand or whatever, and then illustrate the right way.

He was mainly trying to teach form, which I’m guessing is about all you can teach anybody.

You can’t teach them to stay sober for 24 hours in a row.

And you certainly couldn’t teach the mental stability needed to avoid spending so much time tearing yourself up over mistakes that you double-faulted on the next serve.

Yes, thank God, one of the best guys in the camp, dead serious about tennis, dead serious about himself, would noisily berate himself.

“DAMMIT, FRANK!!” (His name wasn’t Frank, just so you know.) “AW, FRANK, COME ON!!”

And others of his talent group joined in, because if one kid’s gonna put on a big show of look-at-me-I’m-better-than-this theater, why not make it audience-participation event?

“C’MON, FRANK!” they’d shout after Frank’s mistakes. No, it wasn’t very nice of them. Not gentlemanly. Not sportsmanlike.

They were corrected by the counselors, who wanted us all to behave, and acted as though they had never heard of Ilie Nastase.

But back to Don Budge and his demos – yes, they could be entertaining.

Of course, none of the ill-formed shots went in. Some were just a little too far outside for seriousness.

And after Don Budge had gone out of sight and there were no managers or uncool counselors around to be offended, the same guys who had mocked Frank got together to mock Don Budge, illustrating bad form and not only hitting the ball outside the line but over the fence and 50 feet past that.

Much laughter.

Yes, that’s correct, a legend in the sport and he enjoyed the golden years mocked by rich stoners from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., no less.

But their parents paid Don Budge’s bills, and the Grand Slam remains one seriously big goddamn deal, so why would Don Budge have given a damn?

PJ

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