Tennis Great Budge Dies
First Grand Slam Winner Dead at 84
By Dan Robrish
He died at Mercy Hospital in Scranton, Pa., hospital spokeswoman Mary Leone said.
Budge was injured in a car accident in northeastern Pennsylvania on Dec. 14, when he lost control and drove off the road. He was hospitalized in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., until Jan. 8, when he was transferred to a nursing facility near his home in Dingmans Ferry. Budge was taken to Mercy Hospital on Jan. 17.
Budge had a complete game built around a whiplash backhand, which still is considered the best ever. He backed up a strong serve with power and accuracy off the ground and volleyed effectively.
Budge played in the shadow of a developing World War II and had a comparatively brief career. He found himself sandwiched between Bill Tilden's heyday in the 1920s and the emergence of a breed of tough, young professionals who hit the ball at 120 mph and competed for purses that soared into millions of dollars.
He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1964, and selected one of Tennis Magazine's 20 greatest players of the 20th century.
During Centre Court ceremonies at Wimbledon in 1998, Budge was introduced as "the tall redheaded Californian with the greatest backhand ever." His mark on the game, in fact, was much greater.
"I consider him the finest player 365 days a year who ever lived," Tilden once said.
Born June 13, 1915, in Oakland, Calif., John Donald Budge was a superb athlete who played all popular team sports, including baseball and basketball.
When he was 13, his brother Lloyd, who played on the tennis team at the University of California, persuaded Don to take tennis seriously.
Nine years later, Budge beat Germany's Baron Gottfried Von Cramm in what is considered to be one of the best Davis Cup matches ever.
That same year, 1937, Budge won both Wimbledon and the U.S. championships. In 1938, he became the first player to sweep all four major titles--Wimbledon and the championships of Australia, France and the United States.
The feat, dubbed a Grand Slam by tennis writer Allison Danzig, has been equaled by only four other players since.
"In the recent light of Andre Agassi achieving a career grand slam, Dad's accomplishment becomes all the more stellar," said David Budge, one of his sons, a music and film publicist in Los Angeles.
It was the only time in his career that Budge played the French or Australian championships.
After reaching the Wimbledon semifinals in 1936, Budge took five months off the following winter to change his game, taking the ball earlier and improving his forehand.
He had a 92-match, 14-tournament winning streak that began early in 1937. He won Wimbledon easily, then on July 20, met Von Cramm on the grass courts of the All England Club.
While in the dressing room before beginning the match, Von Cramm received a telephone call. As Budge listened, Von Cramm, an anti-Nazi, listened, then ended the call by saying politely, "Ja, mein Fuhrer." It was Adolf Hitler.
By the time the two took the court, the best-of-five competition was tied a two victories apiece. Budge triumphed, 6-8, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 8-6, giving the United States the victory.
"Don, this was absolutely the finest match I have ever played in my life," Von Cramm told him. "I'm very happy that I could have played it against you, whom I like so much."
Budge received the Sullivan Award as the nation's outstanding amateur athlete in 1937 and was the Associated Press athlete of the year in 1938.
As a child, his first love was baseball, and later in life he met one of his heroes, Joe DiMaggio, at a New York restaurant.
"You know, Don, I always envied you," DiMaggio told him. "As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a tennis champion."
Budge replied: "That's funny. I always wanted to be a baseball player."
After his 1938 Grand Slam, Budge turned pro and dominated in an era when professionals were not allowed to play tournaments, including the major championships.
"I was the amateur champion for two years and then the pro champion for many years after that," Budge once said. "There was no one who could beat me. Just think of how many more Wimbledons I could have won."
Funeral arrangements were incomplete yesterday. In addition to David Budge, he was survived by his second wife, Loriel Budge, and another son, Jeffrey Budge.
© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press