Don Budge

Don Budge

Class of 1964

Recent Player

Career Achievements

Top Ranking     
World No. 1 (1937)

Grand Slam Results
14-time major champion, 6-time finalist

Davis Cup
Member of the U.S. Davis Cup Team 1935-1938
Member of the U.S. Championship Davis Cup Team 1937-1938
Overall Record: 25-4
Singles Record: 19-2
Doubles Record: 6-2

Citizenship: USA Born: June 13, 1915 in Oakland, California Died: January 26, 2000 Played: Right-handed

In 1938, John Donald Budge became the first player in history to accomplish what had previously been considered the unattainable: he won the singles championships at Australia, France, Wimbledon, and the United States, completing the first ever Grand Slam. With those victories came a rarified place among the tennis elite. While the great Bill Tilden won more major titles than Budge – 18 to 14 – the 6-foot-1, 160 pound redhead is widely considered the more complete player and in some historical circles, the best of all time.

In his book, The Wimbledon Final That Never Was, fellow Sidney Wood called Budge the greatest player of all time. Wood wrote, “In 1938 Don was the first winner of a Grand Slam and for six decades he has been recognized by his peers as the one player to have commanded not only every shot in the book for every surface, but also to have been blessed with the single most destructive weapon ever – a bludgeon backhand struck with a sixteen ounce Paul Bunyan bat.” Tilden may have taken Budge’s praise a step further, if possible, saying, “I consider him the finest player 365 days a year who ever lived.”

With his Grand Slam heroics, Budge earned a monumental milestone that took 25 years to equal in the men’s game, allowing the significance of his achievement to balloon in importance and increase in value like a finely aged wine. Rod Laver, ironically another redhead, is the only man to have repeated Budge's feat, winning the first of his two Grand Slams as an amateur in 1962 and a professional in 1969.

The 1937 to 1938 time period was a spectacular chapter in Budge’s illustrious career. Not withstanding his Grand Slam, in both 1937 and 1938 Budge won all three Wimbledon championships – singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. In 1938 he crushed the field without losing a set, the first player in history to sweep the field in such a fashion, and in the final he deposed of Britain’s Bunny Austin, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3. Afterwards, Austin said, "Donald was unstoppable that afternoon, almost unplayable at times. He was a true great. It was an honor just to be on the same court."

The 1937 and 1938 U.S. National Championships were a near carbon copy as Wimbledon, except Budge lost the 1937 doubles final to Germans Henner Henkel and Gottfried von Cramm, the latter a great rival. The Budge-von Cramm matches were historic battles, leading Time Magazine to rank their rivalry as one of the Top 10 best of all-time. They began when Budge easily defeated von Cramm at Wimbledon in 1937, 6–3, 6–4, 6–2. It transcended into an epic 1937 Davis Cup Inter-Zonal final, leading tennis pundits to call it the “Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played.”

Returning to Wimbledon Centre Court, the match had all bulletin board trappings necessary to build the fervor. Budge was from a blue collar, working class family in Oakland, California and learned to play tennis on public courts. von Cramm was a German aristocrat. Budge stood for American freedom. von Cramm “represented” Nazi Germany.  Budge, coming off his easy Wimbledon straight sets victory, was expected to breeze to victory without much resistance. But prior to the match von Cramm, who had refused to join the Nazi Party, supposedly received a call from Adolph Hitler that had a motivating affect. The German won the opening two sets 8-6, 7-5 and the atmosphere tightened. The steely Budge rallied with 6-4, 6-2 wins in the third and fourth sets. He fell behind 4-1 in the fifth set and, as darkness began to settle over the court, waged an epic comeback. Budge changed his strategy and attacked at every chance off von Cramm’s serve. He capably held his own serve and ultimately went ahead 7-6. The German fought off five match points on Budge’s serve, but on the sixth, a lunging Budge forehand winner after a lengthy rally sent the American sprawling to the grass with an 8-6 victory and a 3-2 U.S. triumph. Author Marshall Jon Fisher chronicled the accounts of that remarkable match in A Terrible Splendor, published in 2009. Two months later, the pair played another whopper at the U.S. Championships; Budge winning the 1937 title, 6-1, 7-9, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.  The pair became friends afterwards, but the competition between the two never reached the same heights.

Budge’s game was often described as being “heavy” – a big forehand, a punishing serve and one of the greatest backhands the game has ever seen. Time Magazine featured a high-flying Budge backhand on its September 2, 1935 cover, one of the greatest tennis action shots of all time. He was mechanically sound, fluid and graceful – what many in the tennis world called the “complete package.”

"Playing tennis against him was like playing against a concrete wall,” said Wood. “There was nothing to attack."

Budge turned professional in 1939 as big paydays were hard to ignore. He made his debut before 17,725 riveted fans at Madison Square Garden in New York, defeating the great Ellsworth Vines in straight sets. On tour, Budge had winning records against Vines, Tilden, and Fred Perry and defeated Bobby Riggs in straight sets for the 1942 United States Pro title. With the termination of the pro tour in the States in 1942, Budge joined the U.S. Army Air Force for the remainder of the war.

Hardly an article is written about Budge that doesn’t mention his popularity, his affability and his gentlemanly manner. He was a man of great intelligence, a product of a solid education at the University of California at Berkeley, and was noted for his courage and integrity.

Budge joined an illustrious group of athletes pictured on a Wheaties cereal box and was featured in the era’s major magazine’s such as Look and Life. He even had his own signature tennis racquet manufactured by Wilson Sporting Goods.

One of his most interesting promotional endeavors as a product pitchman appeared in a 1940 Life magazine advertisement for Bromo-Seltzer -- an antacid used to relieve headaches, steady nerves, and settle an upset stomach. Given the heartache Don Budge gave his opponents, it was an appropriate way to describe his tennis mastery.

Grand Slam

Grand Slam Best Results

Titles

6 singles | 4 doubles | 4 mixed doubles

Singles
Australian Championships: W (1938)
French Championships: W (1938)
Wimbledon: W (1937), (1938)
U.S. Nationals: W (1937), (1938)

Doubles    
Australian Championships: SF (1938)
French Championships: F (1938)
Wimbledon: W (1937), (1938)
U.S. Nationals: W (1937), (1938)

Mixed Doubles   
Australian Championships: QF (1938)
Wimbledon: W (1937), (1938)  
U.S. Nationals: W (1937), (1938)