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In big matches, he wouldn't budge
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

Don Budge, with his booming serve and stylish backhand, stands tall in tennis for two achievements. One is his remarkable accomplishment of becoming the first player to complete a Grand Slam, capturing the four most prestigious tournaments in the sport in one year. The other is his triumph in what many tennis experts consider the most scintillating Davis Cup match ever played.

In 1938, Budge did what nobody before had been able to do; he won the Wimbledon title and the Australian, French and United States national championships in the same year. And the previous summer, he had rallied brilliantly from two sets down, and then 4-1 in the fifth set, to defeat Germany's Baron Gottfried von Cramm in the deciding fifth match to give the United States the victory in the interzone final of the Davis Cup.

Budge was born June 13, 1915, in Oakland, Calif. Growing up, he showed more interest in other sports before turning to tennis. But once he decided tennis was his sport, he showed exceptional skill.

Learning to play on the hard public courts of California, he developed an all-around game. His height (6-foot-1) helped him develop a blistering serve and his quickness helped make him an all-around player. He played the game like a gentleman, without temper tantrums, unlike players of later generations.

After winning the national junior championship, he began playing on the eastern grass circuit in 1934. Two years later, he lost at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Nationals to Fred Perry, the world's top-ranked amateur. The match at Forest Hills was particularly competitive, with Perry needing five sets (10-8 in the fifth) to win the final. Budge beat Perry in the Pacific Southwest tournament that year.

Budge became No. 1 in 1937 when Perry turned pro. Just turned 22, he had possibly the best month ever experienced by any tennis player. First, he swept Wimbledon, defeating von Cramm in straight sets in the singles final as well as winning the men's doubles with Gene Mako and the mixed doubles with Alice Marble.

Then, a couple of weeks later, came the Davis Cup match against Germany, also at Wimbledon. He won his first singles match and played on the winning doubles team with Mako, and the match was tied 2-2 going into his duel with von Cramm. Von Cramm played much better than he had in the Wimbledon final and won the first two sets 8-6, 7-5. But Budge rallied to win the next two 6-4, 6-2. The German took a three-game lead in the final set, but Budge showed the heart of a champion, coming back again to win the dramatic set 8-6.

After that, the Challenge Round, played the next weekend, seemed almost anti-climactic. It was also played at Wimbledon, and Budge won three matches as the United States dethroned Britain to win the Davis Cup for the first time since 1926.

On Sept. 11, 1937, Budge won his first U.S. title, defeating von Cramm again in a hotly contested final, 6-1, 7-9, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. To culminate that wonderful year, Budge became the first tennis player to receive the Sullivan Award as America's top amateur athlete. He also was named the Associated Press athlete of the year.

"Playing tennis against him was like playing against a concrete wall," said Sidney Wood, a frequent opponent. "There was nothing to attack."

Budge considered turning pro in 1938 but decided against it. His reward was the Grand Slam. He defeated John Bromwich 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 in the Australian final and Roderich Menzel 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the French final. At Wimbledon, he didn't lose a set, routing Bunny Austin 6-1, 6-0, 6-3 for the title.

Six days of rain forced the final of the U.S. Nationals back to Sept. 24, but neither the delay nor Mako could prevent the California native from making history. On the grass at Forest Hills, Budge won the first set 6-3 before losing his first set of the tournament, 8-6. But then he crushed his Davis Cup teammate in the next two sets (6-2, 6-1) to gain the Slam.

He also was the key to the 3-2 United States victory over Australia in the Challenge Round of the Davis Cup. He had a 43-2 record in 1938, winning six of eight tournaments. He won an incredible 92 consecutive matches after a loss to Bitsy Grant in January 1937 before the streak was stopped by Adrian Quist in late 1938. The Associated Press again named Budge its athlete of the year.

Budge became a pro in 1939 and made his debut on the tour before a crowd of 17,725 at Madison Square Garden in New York, defeating Ellsworth Vines in straight sets. On tour, Budge defeated Vines 21 matches to 18, as well as Perry, 18-11. The legendary Bill Tilden rejoined the tour in 1941, but at 48 he was no match for Budge, who beat him 51 of 58 times.

Budge won two U.S. Pro championships before entering the Air Force in 1942. A shoulder injury suffered in military reduced his post-war effectiveness on the tour. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1964.

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