American tennis player
Don Budge dominated the world of tennis throughout most of his career. His lightning quick return and
flawless backhand made him nearly unbeatable at his prime. Yet he will forever be known for two crowning achievements: completing the first ever "Grand Slam" in 1938 by winning at Wimbledon, the U.S., French and Australian national championships, and his victory in what many call the most exciting Davis Cup match in history.
Baseball leads to Tennis
Sports were a family affair in the Budge home. Budge's father was a professional soccer player in Scotland. Suffering from respiratory problems he settled in California hoping the warmer climate would help his condition. John Donald Budge was born in California on June 13, 1915 and took to sports at a young age. While his older brother, Lloyd, excelled at tennis, Don chose baseball as his primary pursuit. Ironically, some attribute his early experience with baseball as key to his tennis success. "From the very first, Don's money-stroke was his backhand which grew directly out of his almost-perfect, left-handed batting swings," wrote E. Digby Baltzell in his book Sporting Gentlemen.
After honing his skills on the hard public courts of California, Budge entered the state's Fifteen-and-Under Championships just before his fifteenth birthday. At the tournament, he met Perry T. Jones, a prominent coach. Beating the top contender in the first round, Budge looked to Jones awaiting a compliment. What he received instead left a mark on him for his entire career. "With a distinct frown, he looked me up and down," Budge told Baltzell years later. "These are the dirtiest tennis shoes I ever saw in my life. Don't you ever-don't you ever-show up again on any court anywhere wearing shoes like that. I know he made an impression on me, for I've never gone on court since that day with scruffy shoes." Dirty footwear aside, Budge went on to win the tournament.
The early victory encouraged him to put aside baseball and dream of tennis success. At the age of 18 he won the National Junior Championships by beating Gene Mako, the top contender, in the fifth set, rallying from a two set deficit. Budge and Mako became life long friends and went on to make a formidable doubles team, winning the doubles at Wimbledon in 1937 and both the U.S. and Wimbledon doubles in 1938.
Budge enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley but quickly withdrew during his first year to play the Emerson Grass Court Circuit as part of an auxiliary Davis Cup Team. After losing in the fourth round at Forest Hills he was ranked in the top ten U.S. players.
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.
A Historic Davis Cup Match
When Fred Perry turned pro in 1937, Budge became No. 1 in the amateur ranks. Armed with his newly developed hard and early stroke, the 22 year-old had perhaps the best month in tennis history. He dominated Wimbledon in 1937 becoming the first man to win the men's singles, men's doubles, and mixed doubles (playing with Gene Mako and Alice Marbles.) Along the way, he beat his friend and rival Von Cramm in three straight sets.
Just a couple of weeks later, at the Davis Cup, the rivalry with Von Cramm produced one of the most storied matches in tennis history. Needing a win to guarantee the U.S. a spot in the challenge round, Budge stepped onto the court the underdog. He lost the first two sets, came back for the next two and finally won the fifth set 8-6. Queen Mary of England was in attendance and so many Americans watched the match that activity on Wall Street slowed down. The match even attracted the attention of German dictator Adolph Hitler who listened intently to the radio broadcast.
|1928||Begins to play tennis|
|1930||Enters and wins California State Fifteen-and-Under Championship|
|1933||Wins National Junior's Championship|
|1937||Ranked number-one amateur player in the world|
|1937||First man to win Wimbledon's men's singles, men's doubles, and mixed doubles|
|1937||Leads U.S. team to victory Davis Cup after breaking an 11 year losing streak|
|1938||Wins the sport's first "Grand Slam"|
|1940, 1942||Wins U.S. Professional Title|
|1942||Joins Air Force|
|1946-47, 1949, 1953||Plays and loses in U.S. Professional Finals|
|1953||Retires from professional tennis|
|1964||Voted into the Tennis Hall of Fame|
Budge called it "the greatest match in which I ever played. It was competitive, long and close. It was fought hard but cleanly by two close friends. It was cast with the ultimate in rivals, the number-one ranked amateur player in the world and against the number two. I never played better and never played anyone as good as Cramm." Allison Danzig later wrote in the book Budge on Tennis, "The brilliance of the tennis was almost unbelievable. In game after game they sustained their amazing virtuosity without the slightest deviation or faltering on either side. Gradually, inch by inch, Budge picked up."
After that match, the following weekend's Challenge Round against England almost came as an after thought. Budge won three matches, ushering the U.S. to victory in the Davis Cup for the first time since 1926.
For his achievements that year, Budge won the Sullivan Award for most outstanding amateur athlete and was named Associated Press Athlete of the Year. "Playing tennis against him was like playing against a concrete wall," said Sidney Wood, a player who often faced Budge in competition, "There was nothing to attack."
Won the Grand Slam
The time was ripe to turn professional. Budge was at the top of the sport and could command the highest fees. Yet he turned down the professional offers to defend the Davis Cup for the U.S. team one more time. Few could expect that in 1938 he would turn in an even more spectacular performance than the previous year.
That year Budge demolished every obstacle in his way to win the first ever tennis Grand Slam. At the Australian competition he lost only one set the entire tournament and handily beat John Bramwich 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 at the final. Budge was just as unstoppable in the French championship only dropping three sets and defeating Roderich Menzel of Czechslovakia 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. At Wimbledon Budge won every set he played, routing Bunny Austin of Britain, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3 for the championship.
Six days of rain pushed the final match of the U.S. championship back to September 24. But neither weather nor his friend Gene Mako could deter Budge. He took the first set 6-3 before losing his first set of the competition 6-8. Then he came back to flatten Mako 6-2, 6-1 and complete the Grand Slam.
After the historic sweep of the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. championships Budge led the U.S. to victory in the Davis Cup over Australia, overpowering Adrian Quist and Bramwhich. He posted a 42-2 record in 1938, capturing six of eight tournaments. From January of 1937, Budge won an amazing 92 consecutive matches until Adrian Quist finally broke the winning streak in late 1938. Again, Budge was named best athlete of the year by the Associated Press.
The Professional Years
Ranked the number one amateur in 1937-38, Budge finally turned professional in 1939 after having spent four years in the world top ten and, five years in the U.S. top ten. In his professional debut at Madison Square Garden in New York, Budge beat Ellsworth 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 while 16,725 fans watched. On the professional tour, he beat Vines 21 to 18 matches and went 18 to 11 against his former coach, the celebrated Fred Perry. The flamboyant Bill Tilden , a formidable player in earlier years, joined the tour in 1941, but he was well past his prime at 48 years old and Budge handily beat him, 51-7.
Budge won the U.S. pro title in 1940 defeating Perry 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 and again in 1942 over Bobby Riggs, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. In 1942 he left the pro tour to join the Air Force. After the war, Budge's performance was affected by a shoulder injury suffered while in military training. Nevertheless, he made it to the U.S. professional finals in 1946, '47, '49, and '53, losing the first three matches to Riggs and the last to 25 year-old Pancho Gonzalez . Budge retired in 1938 and in 1964 he was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame.
Related Biography: Tennis Player Gottfried Von Cramm
Gottfried Von Cramm, born on July 7, 1908, in Nettlingen, Hanover, Germany, into an aristocratic family, was one of the world's premier tennis players. Known on the court as "The Baron" for his good looks and courtesy, he won the French Cup in 1934 and 1936. Von Cramm played a total of 111 Davis Cup matches and won six German titles, the last of which, in 1948, at the age of 40.
With his tall Aryan good looks and his record as a champion, Von Cramm would have been an ideal standard bearer for the Nazi party. However, he made the courageous choice not to endorse Nazism during World War II.
Von Cramm never won at Wimbledon. In 1935 and 1936 he was runner-up to Fred Perry and in 1937 Don Budge bested him. He and Budge enjoyed a friendship and on-court rivalry that spanned many years and included the historic Davis Cup match of 1937.
Due to his defiance of the Nazi party Von Cramm was accused of homosexuality and spent most of 1938 in prison. Budge appealed to other professional athletes, gathering 25 signatures in protest.
Upon his release in May of 1939, the management of both Wimbledon and the Queens Tournament refused to allow Von Cramm to compete, being that he was a player recently released from prison and surrounded by the stigma of homosexuality. Finally, he was permitted to play and won the Queens Tournament, beating the man who would eventually win at Wimbledon. Many believe that had he been allowed to play he might have won Wimbledon.
After the war, Von Cramm began a successful cotton import business, in his native Hanover, and served as president of the Lawn Tennis Rot-Weiss in Berlin. He died in a car accident in Cairo, Egypt, in November of 1975 and was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame the next year.
Budge will forever be remembered as the first man to win all four major tennis championships completing the first ever tennis Grand Slam in 1937. However, those who watched him play or faced him in competition hold him in an even higher regard. Fred V. Phelps recapped Budge's career in the Biographical Dictionary of American Sports by writing, "Many experts have called this popular, skilled sportsman the greatest player since [Bill] Tillden, and some have ranked him the greatest. " Apparently, Tillden himself was among the latter group, calling Budge "the finest player 365 days a year who ever lived."
"Don Budge." Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 21.
BBC Sport. http://www.bbc.com/sport/tennis : French Open (May 23, 2002).
"Don Budge. Class of 1964." International Tennis Hall of Fame http://www.tennisfame.com/ (2002):.
"Gottfried Von Cramm Class of 1977." International Tennis Hall of Fame. http://www.tennisfame.com/ (October 30, 2002).
Les heros du grand chelem. http://www.histoiredutennis.com/Lalegendedugrandchelem/ (April 25, 2001).
Schwartz, Larry. "In Big Matches, He Wouldn't Budge." ESPN.com. http://www.espn.com/ (October 30, 2002).
"Tennis great Don Budge Dead at 84." CNN/Sports Illustrated. http://www.cnnsi.com/ (January 26, 2000):.
Sketch by Mike Pare
Awards and Accomplishments
|1936, 1938||U.S. doubles champion|
|1937||Sullivan Award For most outstanding amateur athlete|
|1937||Associated Press Athlete Of The Year|
|1937, 1938||Wimbledon singles, doubles and mixed doubles champion|
|1937, 1938||U.S. singles and mixed doubles champion|
|1938||Australian singles champion|
|1938||French singles champion|
|1938||Associated Press Athlete Of The Year|
|1964||Inducted into International Tennis Hall of Fame|
Don Budge (born 1915) swept the tennis scene in 1937, when he won the singles, men's doubles, and mixed doubles at Wimbledon, the U.S. national singles and mixed doubles, and the Davis Cup. In 1938, he was the first player ever to win Wimbledon as well as the U.S., French, and Australian national championships-the "Grand Slam" of tennis.
Budge's father was a professional soccer player in Scotland who moved to California in hopes that the warmer climate would help with his respiratory problems. His mother, also of Scottish descent, was born in San Francisco. Budge and his brother Lloyd were both born in Oakland and were natural athletes; although Lloyd played tennis from an early age, Don Budge preferred baseball. When he was 13, Lloyd, who was the top member of the tennis team at the University of California in Berkeley, talked him into giving tennis a try. E. Digby Baltzell wrote, "From the very first, Don's money-stroke was his backhand which grew directly out of his almost-perfect, left-handed batting swing."
Won His First Tournament
Shortly before his fifteenth birthday, Budge entered his first tournament, the California State Fifteen-and-Under Championships. He beat the top contender in the first round and eventually won the tournament. During the match, he met famed coach Perry T. Jones, whose players dominated tennis from 1931 to 1949. After Budge came off the court feeling triumphant, Jones beckoned to him, and Budge went over to him confidently, expecting to receive a compliment. "Instead, with a distinct frown, he looked me up and down," Budge later recalled, according to Baltzell. Jones told him, "Those are the dirtiest tennis shoes I ever saw in my life. Don't you ever-don't you ever-show up again on any court anywhere at any time wearing shoes like that." Deeply embarrassed, Budge slunk off the court, and later said, "I know he made an impression on me, for I've never gone on court since that day with even scuffy shoes."
After winning the tournament, Budge was hooked on tennis and dreamed of winning the National Junior Championships. In 1933 he did just that at the age of 18, beating the top-seeded contender in the fifth set after losing two sets. The player he beat was Gene Mako, and surprisingly, the two became lifelong friends. They played doubles together for the rest of Budge's amateur career, and in 1936, beat Allison and Van Ryn, who had been 1935 U.S. Champions, 14 times before beating them in the Forest Hills final; in 1937 they won the doubles at Wimbledon, and they won both the U.S. and Wimbledon doubles in 1938.
A Player with a Lot to Learn
During his freshman year at the University of California at Berkeley, Budge withdrew from college to play the Emerson Grass Court Circuit as a member of an auxiliary Davis Cup team. He made it to the fourth round at Forest Hills and was ranked among the top ten U.S. players. At the Pacific Coast Championships at Berkeley, he lost to famed player Fred Perry in the finals. Although he could have played through the winter months in South America and on the Riviera, Budge decided to stay home and work on his grip, which Perry had called a "Wild Western" grip, according to Baltzell. He was an admirer of Perry and was thrilled when Perry took time out to coach him. He also worked with his own coach, Tom Stowe, who was the tennis pro at the Claremont Country Club in Oakland. Stowe, who coached Budge for free, focused on changing Budge's grip to an "Eastern" grip and on improving his volley. By the following spring, he was a stronger and more skilled player. As Frank V. Phelps wrote in Biographical Dictionary of American Sports, "Wielding a 16-ounce racket, the 6 foot, 1 inch, 155 pound right-handed 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 overspin." He was also known for his powerful backhand and his quick return of serves.
Budge first began playing world-level tennis in 1935. He won an unexpected victory over Bunny Adams at Wimbledon, and met famed player Baron Gottfried von Cramm, who became his friend for life despite the fact that in the semifinal, Cramm beat Budge. Cramm, who was a true gentleman on the court, impressed Budge with the high caliber of his moral character as an athlete, and Budge adhered to Cramm's ideals of athletic behavior after their meeting.
In 1937, Budge dominated tennis, but he still had much to learn, and he was eager to learn it. As Alan Trengrove wrote in The Story of the Davis Cup, "Don Budge's greatness was as much the result of his eagerness to learn and to adjust his technique as to his natural talent." He applied that eagerness in January of 1937, while he was umpiring a match between two world-class players. He noticed that player one hit the ball very hard, and the other hit the ball very soon after it bounced, when it was still only a few inches off the court. He reasoned that a player who could hit the ball both hard and early would be unbeatable, and he resolved to be that player. In addition, he and coach Tom Stowe worked on his attitude. According to Baltzell, he later wrote, "I was to think of myself as number one at all times. If I concentrated on that belief, we felt that I would be more likely to play like number one."
Played "Almost to Perfection"
He was right. He played "almost to perfection," according to Baltzell, during the spring and summer of 1937, never losing a match on grass, and not losing any tournament at all until September, when he lost to Henner Henkel in a small tournament outside Chicago. He won the Wimbledon singles, men's doubles, and mixed doubles (playing with Gene Mako and Alice Marble), becoming the first man to accomplish this feat. He beat his friend Gottfried von Cramm in three straight sets at Wimbledon, and beat him again in the Davis Cup Interzone Finals, where he needed to beat Cramm so that the U.S. team would make it to the challenge round. In that competition, Cramm was favored to win, and he was also a favorite of the crowd, since Budge was considered an upstart. Budge lost in the first two sets, but then beat Cramm in the next two. In the fifth set, he won 8-6, letting the U.S. team into the challenge round. As Baltzell noted, he called that game "the greatest match in which I ever played. It was competitive, long, and close. It was fought hard but cleanly by two close friends. It was cast with the ultimate in rivals, the number-one-ranked amateur player in the world against the number two. I never played better and never played anyone as good as Cramm." Budge also remarked on the fact that Queen Mary of England was in attendance, that so many Americans watched the competition that activity on the stock market slowed down, and even German dictator Adolf Hitler listened intently to the broadcast. According to Trengrove, Allison Danzig later wrote in the book Budge on Tennis, "The brilliance of the tennis was almost unbelievable. In game after game [Budge and Cramm] sustained their amazing virtuosity without the slightest deviation or faltering on either side. Gradually, inch by inch, Budge picked up." Baltzell noted that a reporter for the London Times commented, "Certainly I have never seen a match that came nearer the heroic in its courage, as in its strokes, as this." Once Budge had cleared the way, the U.S. team beat England for the first time in the Davis Cup since 1926.
Throughout the Davis Cup competition, Budge displayed the calm temperament he later became famous for. On the night before a particularly important match, he went to sleep at ten at night and woke up at two in the morning. Thirsty, he went out into the hall and headed for the sink, and ran into Texan Wilmer Allison, who was so nervous he couldn't sleep. Allison, who was a much more experienced player than Budge, shook his head in amazement at Budge's calm. "You haven't got any nerves at all," he said, according to Alan Trengrove in The Story of the Davis Cup. "I wish to heaven I could go to sleep before a match."
Won the Grand Slam
Budge beat Cramm again at Forest Hills and the Pacific Southwest. Because of his achievements during that outstanding year, he won the Sullivan Award for the most outstanding amateur athlete, and was named Associated Press Athlete of the Year. As Baltzell wrote, "He became an authentic national hero. The world was at his feet and he could dictate his terms to the professional promoters who now wooed him with lucrative offers." However, Budge didn't want to turn pro just yet. He felt that tennis had given him great opportunities, and he wanted to pay back these gifts to the game and its players. He wanted to win all four of the famed national championships-Wimbledon, the Australian championship, the French championship, and the U.S. championship.
No one could have imagined that in 1938 he would play even better, than he did in 1937, but he did. In that year, he succeeded in his goal and became the first player ever to win the "Grand Slam" of tennis-Wimbledon, and the Australian, U.S., and French national championships. The Associated Press named him Athlete of the Year again in 1938. In his entire Davis Cup career, Budge had a record of 19-2; he only lost in 1935, to Fred Perry and "Bunny" Austin.
In 1939, Budge began playing professionally; during that year, he was 21-18 against Ellsworth Vines and 18-11 against the legendary Fred Perry. Bill Tilden, the flamboyant and formerly great player, also joined the tour in 1941, but by then he was past his peak, and out of 58 matches, Budge won 51. After this, the tour was halted when the United States entered the fighting of World War II, and Budge retired.
In 1941, Budge married Diedre Conselman, and they had two sons, David Bruce and Jeffrey Donald. He and Conselman divorced, and he married Loriel McPherson in June 1967. Budge was briefly a partner in a laundry service, then worked as a tennis pro and as a consultant to sporting goods manufacturers. He wrote two books, Budge on Tennis and Don Budge: A Memoir, and was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1964. Fred V. Phelps summed up his career by noting, "Many experts have called this popular, skilled sportsman the greatest player since [Bill] Tilden, and some have ranked him the greatest ever."
Baltzell, E. Digby, Sporting Gentlemen, The Free Press, 1995.
Biographical Dictionary of American Sports, edited by David L. Porter, Greenwood Press, 1988.
Hickok, Ralph, A Who's Who of Sports Champions, Hought on Mifflin, 1995.
Tengrove, Alan, The Story of the Davis Cup, Stanley Paul, 1985. □