John Donald ("Don") Budge (June 13, 1915 – January 26, 2000) was an American tennis champion who was a World Number One player for five years, first as an amateur and then as a professional.
Supremely athletic and powerful, the red-haired Budge stood six-foot-one and weighed 160 pounds, giving him an imposing body, ideal for tennis players. His one-handed backhand is considered to have been the best backhand of all time. Budge was held in high regard by fellow players, spectators, and officials.
His historic firsts include being the first man to win Wimbledon's men's singles, men's doubles, and mixed doubles in the same year (1937) and being the first man to win in a single year the four major tournaments that compose the Grand Slam, a feat he accomplished in 1938. He is also remembered for leading the 1937 U.S. team to a Davis Cup victory for the first time in 11 years.
From January of 1937 until late in 1938, Budge won an amazing 92 consecutive matches and 14 tournaments. In 1937, he became the first tennis player to ever be voted the James E. Sullivan Award as America's top amateur athlete. In both 1937 and 1938, he was named Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.
Born in Oakland, California, Budge was the son of a Scottish immigrant and former soccer player—his father had played several matches for the Rangers reserve team before moving to the warmer climate in California, in an effort to alleviate his respiratory problems. His mother was also of Scottish heritage and was born in San Francisco. Growing up, Budge played a variety of sports—baseball, basketball, and football were among his favorites. At age 13, his brother Lloyd, already a top tennis player at the University of California-Berkeley, persuaded him to take up the sport that would make him famous.
Just shy of age 15, Budge won his first tournament, the California State Fifteen-and-Under Championships. This victory inspired him to pursue tennis seriously, and propelled him to the National Junior title in 1933 at age 18, coming back from two sets down in the final to win in five sets. His opponent, Gene Mako, became his longtime friend and doubles partner. Among their victories were the 1936 and 1938 U.S. Championships and the 1937-1938 Wimbledon titles.
In 1933, Budge was enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley as a freshman, but he left college to play tennis with the U.S. Davis Cup auxiliary team. Accustomed to hard-court surfaces in his native California, he had difficulty playing on the grass surfaces in the east. After dedicating that winter to retooling his game, he returned to competition with an Eastern forehand grip and an improved volley.
In 1937, he became the first player to sweep Wimbledon, winning the singles, the men's doubles title with Gene Mako, and the mixed doubles crown with Alice Marble. He then went on to win the U.S. National singles and the mixed doubles with Sarah Palfrey Fabyan.
He gained the most fame for his match that year against rival and friend, Gottfried von Cramm, in the Davis Cup inter-zone finals against Germany. Trailing 1-4 in the final set, he came back to win 8-6. His victory allowed the United States to advance and to then win the Davis Cup for the first time in 12 years. For his efforts, he was named Associated Press' Male Athlete of the Year, and he became the first tennis player to ever be voted the James E. Sullivan Award as America's top amateur athlete.
His outright dominance, in 1937, brought him national fame, leaving promoters of the professional tour pining for him, but Budge wanted to accomplish even more as an amateur. He also wanted to give back to the players and the sport that had given him so much, by staying eligible for the United States' defense of the Davis Cup. In 1938, Budge dominated amateur tennis, defeating John Bromwich in the Australian Open final, Roderick Menzel in the French Open, Henry "Bunny" Austin at Wimbledon, where he never lost a set, and Gene Mako in the U.S. Open. With this unprecedented achievement, he became the first player ever to win the Grand Slam in tennis.
Budge turned professional after winning the Grand Slam and thereafter played mostly head-to-head matches. In 1939, he beat the two reigning kings of professional tennis, Ellsworth Vines and Fred Perry, 22 matches to 17 and 28 matches to eight. That year, he also won the French Pro Championship over Vines and the Wembley Pro tournament over Hans Nüsslein.
There was no professional tour in 1940, but there were seven principal tournaments. Budge kept his world crown by winning four of these events, including the greatest one, the United States Pro Championship. In 1941, Budge played another major tour beating the 48-year-old Bill Tilden, the final outcome being 46-7 plus 1 tie. In 1942, Budge won both his last major tour over Bobby Riggs, Frank Kovacs, Perry and Les Stoefen, and, for a second time, the U.S. Pro, crushing Riggs 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in the final.
Following this victory, he joined the United States Army Air Force to serve in World War II. In early 1943, during military training, he tore a muscle in his shoulder. In his book, A Tennis Memoir, he said, "The tear didn't heal, and the scar tissue that was formed complicated the injury and made it even more serious. Nevertheless…I was able to carry on with my military duties…as long as two years afterwards, in the spring of '45, I was given a full month's medical leave so that I could go to Berkeley and have an osteopath, Dr. J. LeRoy Near, work with me." This permanently hindered his playing abilities.
During his wartime duty, he played some exhibitions for the troops. During the summer of 1945, with the war winding down, Budge played in a U.S Army (Budge-Frank Parker) versus U.S. Navy (Riggs-Wayne Sabin) competition under the Davis Cup format; the marquee confrontations were between Budge and Riggs, as both Americans were the best players in the world in 1942, prior to enlistment, and were the best again when they returned to the professional circuit in 1945. In the first match in Guam, Budge trounced Riggs 6-2, 6-2. Then, on the island of Peleliu, Budge won again 6-4, 7-5. To Budge's disbelief, Riggs won the next two matches against Budge 6-1, 6-1 on the island of Ulithi, and 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 on the island of Saipan. In the fifth and final match on the island of Tinian, in August 1945, Riggs defeated Budge 6-8, 6-1, 8-6. This was the first time Budge had been beaten by Riggs in a series (Riggs also won 3 matches out of 5 against the amateur Parker, both holder and future titlist of the U.S. amateur Nationals at Forest Hills) thereby giving Riggs an important psychological edge in their forthcoming peacetime tours.
After the war, Budge played for a few years, mostly against Riggs. In 1946, Budge lost narrowly to Riggs in their U.S. tour, 24 matches to 22. The hierarchy was confirmed at the U.S. Pro, held at Forest Hills where Riggs easily defeated Budge in the last round. The next year, Riggs remained the top pro by defeating Budge again in the U.S. Pro final in five sets. Riggs then established himself as the World No. 1 for those two years. According to Jack Kramer, "Bobby played to Budge's shoulder, lobbed him to death, won the first twelve matches, thirteen out of the first fourteen, and then hung on to beat Budge, twenty-four matches to twenty-two. At the age of thirty, Don Budge was very nearly a has-been. That was the way pro tennis worked then." According to Riggs, however, Budge still had a very powerful, very deadly overhead and that rather than winning outright many points with his lobbing, he actually achieved two other goals: His constant lobbing led Budge to play somewhat deeper at the net than he would have otherwise, thereby making it easier for Riggs to hit passing shots for winners; and the constant lobbing helped to wear Budge down by forcing him to run back to the backline time after time. Budge reached two more U.S. Pro finals, losing in 1949, at Forest Hills to Riggs and in 1953, in Cleveland, to Pancho Gonzales.
In 1954, Budge recorded his last significant victory in a North American tour with Gonzales, Segura, and Sedgman when, in Los Angeles, he defeated Gonzales, by then the best player in the world.
After retiring from competition, Budge became a teaching pro, coaching and conducting tennis clinics for children. Budge also owned a laundry in New York with Sidney Wood and a bar in Oakland. A gentleman on and off the court, he was much in demand for speaking engagements and endorsed various lines of sporting goods.
With the advent of the Open era in tennis, in 1968, he returned to play at Wimbledon in the Veteran's doubles. In 1973, at the age of 58, he and former champion Frank Sedgman teamed up to win the Veteran's doubles championship at Wimbledon before an appreciative crowd.
In December of 1999, Budge was injured in an automobile accident from which he never fully recovered. He died on January 26, 2000, at a nursing home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was 84 years old. He was survived by his wife, Loriel McPherson, and his two sons (from his first marriage to Diedre Conselman), David Bruce and Jeffrey Donald.
Tall, slim, and equipped with strong, graceful strokes, Budge was the outstanding player of his generation. Because of all of his achievements, Budge still commands a place on many greatest-ever lists. Paul Metzler, in his analysis of ten of the all-time greats, named Budge as the greatest player before World War II, and gave him second place overall behind Jack Kramer. Kramer himself has written that Budge was, in the long run, the greatest player who ever lived, although Ellsworth Vines topped him when at the height of his game.
In his 1979 autobiography, Kramer considered the best player ever to have been either Don Budge (for consistent play) or Ellsworth Vines (at the height of his game). The next four best were, chronologically, Bill Tilden, Fred Perry, Bobby Riggs, and Pancho Gonzales. After these six came the "second echelon" of Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Gottfried von Cramm, Ted Schroeder, Jack Crawford, Pancho Segura, Frank Sedgman, Tony Trabert, John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Björn Borg, and Jimmy Connors. He felt unable to rank Henri Cochet and René Lacoste accurately but felt they were among the very best.
Kramer claimed that Budge was the best of all and said, "He owned the most perfect set of mechanics and he was the most consistent…. Don was so good that when he toured with Sedgman, Gonzales, and Segura in 1954, at the age of thirty-eight, none of those guys could get to the net consistently off his serve—and Sedgman, as quick a man who ever played the game, was in his absolute prime then. Don could keep them pinned to the baseline with his backhand too."
More recently, an Associated Press poll conducted in 1999 ranked Budge fifth, following Laver, Sampras, Tilden, and Borg. And in 2006, a panel of former players and experts was asked by TennisWeek to assemble a draw for a fantasy tournament to determine who was the greatest of all time. The top eight seeds were Federer, Laver, Sampras, Borg, Tilden, Budge, Kramer, and McEnroe. Indeed, most noteworthy polls have ranked Budge in the top five or six. Perhaps only Tilden and Laver can boast such a high and long-standing critical assessment.
Budge was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1964.
|Year||Championship||Opponent in Final||Score in Final|
|1937||Wimbledon||Gottfried von Cramm||6-3, 6-4, 6-2|
|1937||U.S. Championships||Gottfried von Cramm||6-1, 7-9, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1|
|1938||Australian Championships||John Bromwich||6-4, 6-2, 6-1|
|1938||French Championships||Roderik Menzel||6-3, 6-2, 6-4|
|1938||Wimbledon Championships (2)||Bunny Austin||6-1, 6-0, 6-3|
|1938||U.S. Championships (2)||Gene Mako||6-3, 6-8, 6-2, 6-1|
|Year||Championship||Opponent in Final||Score in Final|
|1936||U.S. Championships||Fred Perry||2-6, 6-2, 8-6, 1-6, 10-8|
All links retrieved March 12, 2013.
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