July 20, 1937: If it happened today, it would start like this: “Hey, Don, look at this text.” Gottfried gives Budge his cell. “Good Luck against Budge.” It’s from Adolf Hitler. Gay and no lover of Nazis, Gottfried von Cramm will need more than good luck to avoid their punishments and prisons. Budge will later sign a letter to Hitler to plead Gottfried’s case. They are the two best players in the world. Today’s match will likely decide whether Germany or America will win the Davis Cup. Hitler listens on the radio while US stock sales come to a standstill. When the match finally ends, thousands stay put for almost an hour in wonder at what they have seen. They had watched Budge hit four perfect serves as he served for this first set at 5-4. They had watched Cramm hit four perfect winners of these four perfect serves to tie the first set at 5-5 all. Budge and Cramm kept lifting and lifting each other’s games till History records it was one of the greatest matches ever played.
1937-1964: Fifth set: Cramm takes a 4-1 lead. In the stands during the changeover, Ed Sullivan calls Bill Tilden a son of a bitch for supporting Cramm while Lennon and McCartney wait to be born. Budge wakes up sweating in the middle of the night for years and years with the score 4-1 in the final set. In 1938, Budge wins all four major tournaments, history’s first grand slam. After watching Budge win the French Open that year, Pablo Casals invites Budge up to his place for a private concert. Casals must have played one of Bach’s cello suites–he was making the legendary first recording of them from 1936-39–as certainly as Ed Sullivan introduced 73 million viewers to the Beatles’ first performance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. Men turned it off. Girls turned it on. Budge holds at 4-2, decides on a new tactic. Since Cramm’s fantastic kick second serve bounces up high to his backhand, one of the greatest shots in tennis history, Budge decides to step way in and take it on the rise, smacking each return deep and charging the net. Cramm gets a little nervous and starts missing first serves by inches. Budge breaks, then later breaks again to serve for the match. On his fifth match point, Budge hits a running, diving forehand for a winner. He takes a full page to describe it in his memoirs. No one saw the look on Hitler’s face.
This portrait of Donald Budge by Samuel Woolf is from the National Portrait Gallery.
For a fuller account of the match between Don Budge and Gottfried von Cramm, check out A Terrible Splendor, by Marshall Jon Fisher. Great read. Or a great listen on Audible.
To get weekly posts every Thursday with original art and innovative writing on tennis, please subscribe below:
Happy to announce that this blog has been named one of Feedspot’s top tennis blogs, websites & influencers of 2023.