Don Budge

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

John Donald ("Don") Budge (June 13, 1915, Oakland, California – January 26, 2000, Poughkeepsie, New York) was a great American tennis player of the 1930s and 40s who was the World No. 1 player for 5 years, first as an amateur and then as a professional. He is most famous, however, as the first man to win in a single year the four tournaments that compose the Grand Slam of tennis. Budge was also generally considered to have the best backhand in the history of tennis, at least until the emergence of Ken Rosewall in the 1950s and '60s. Tall and slim but extremely strong, he also had one of the most powerful serves of all time; the serve, combined with his quickness and the graceful, overpowering backhand that he hit with a slight amount of topspin, made him the best player of his era, and he remains a strong candidate as the greatest player of all time.[1]


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 emigrating to the United States, where he worked as a laundry wagon driver.[2] Growing up, Don played a variety of sports before taking up tennis, in which he was coached by his older brother, Lloyd. [3] Budge studied at the University of California, Berkeley, in late 1933 but left to play tennis with the U.S. Davis Cup auxiliary team. Accustomed to hard-court surfaces in his native California, at first he had difficulty playing on the grass surfaces in the east. He was also publicly mocked about his obvious lack of good looks and savoir faire. Time magazine, in a major article about Budge in 1935, wrote that he was a "phlegmatic, gentle youth, so homely that even his mother smiled when a friend said that, if not the best tennis player in the world, her son was certainly the ugliest." And that "young Budge is likeable but undistinguished off a tennis court." [4] By 1937, however, he swept the Wimbledon championships, 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.

His most famous match that year came against 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 to 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.

In 1938 Budge dominated amateur tennis, defeating John Bromwich in the Australian Open final, Roderick Menzel in the French Open, Bunny Austin at Wimbledon, where he never lost a set, and Gene Mako in the U.S. Open, to become the first person 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 8. That year he also won two great pro tournaments, the Professional Tennis Championships|French Pro Championship over Vines and the Wembley Pro tournament over Hans Nüsslein. There was no professional tour in 1940 but seven principal tournaments. Budge kept his world crown by winning 4 of these events including the greatest one, the Professional Tennis Championships|United States Pro Championship. In 1941 Budge played another major tour beating the 48-year-old Bill Tilden, the final outcome probably 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. He then joined the United States Air Force|United States Army Air Force to serve in World War II. At the beginning of 1943 in an obstacle course he tore a muscle in his shoulder. In his book 'A Tennis Memoir' page 144 he said "The tear didn't heal, and the scar tissue that was formed complicated the injury and made it even serious. Nevertheless...I was able to carry on with my military 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 in particular during the summer 1945 with the war winding down, Budge played in an U.S Army (Budge-Frank Parker) - U.S. Navy (Riggs - Wayne Sabin) competition under the Davis Cup format : the main confrontations were the Budge-Riggs meetings knowing that both Americans were the best players in the world in 1942 just before being enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces and again when they came back to the professional circuit in 1945. In the first match, on the island of Guam, Budge trounced Riggs 6-2 6-2. On the island of Peleliu Budge won again 6-4 7-5. Riggs won the next two matches against Budge 6-1 6-1 (island of Ulithi) and 6-3 4-6 6-1 (island of Saipan). Budge confided in Parker his disbelief at losing two matches in a row to Riggs. In the fifth and final match on the island of Tinian, scheduled for the first week of 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 US amateur Nationals at Forest Hills) thereby giving Riggs an important psychological edge in their forthcoming peacetime tours. [5]

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 United States Professional Championship|U.S. Pro, held at Forest Hills where Riggs easily defeated Budge in the last round. Next year Riggs stayed the pro king by defeating again Budge in the U.S. Pro final in five sets. Riggs then established himself as the World number one male tennis player rankings|World No. 1 for those two years. According to 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 very 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. [6]. 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 coached and conducted tennis clinics for children. According to Riggs' 1949 autobiography, as of that writing Budge owned a laundry in New York with Sidney Wood as well as 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 Tennis Open Era|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, aged 84.

Budge was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport, Rhode Island in 1964. Don Budge received the honour of being mentioned in a musical. He is known as the tennis instructor in Annie. His skill is referred to during the song "I think I'm gonna like it here."


Budge is a consensus pick for being one of the greatest players of all time, if not the very greatest. E. Digby Baltzell wrote in 1994 that Budge and Laver "have usually been rated at the top of any all-time World Champions list, Budge having a slight edge." [7] Will Grimsley wrote in 1971 that Budge "is considered by many to be foremost among the all-time greats." [8] Paul Metzler, in his analysis of ten of the all-time greats, singles out Budge as the greatest player before World War II, and gives him second place overall behind Jack Kramer (tennis player)|Jack Kramer.[9] 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. "Budge was the best of all," says Kramer. "He owned the most perfect set of mechanics and he was the most consistent.... Don was so good that when he toured with Frank Sedgman|Sedgman, Pancho Gonzales|Gonzales, and Pancho Segura|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." 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. All of these sources were written after Laver completed his second, and Open, Grand Slam in 1969.

In early 1986 Inside Tennis, a magazine edited in Northern California, devoted parts of four issues to a lengthy article called "Tournament of the Century", an imaginary tournament to determine the greatest of all time. Twenty-five players in all were named by the 37 experts in their lists of the 10 best. The magazine then ranked them in descending order by total number of points assigned. The top eight players in overall points, with their number of first-place votes, were: Rod Laver (9), John McEnroe (3), Don Budge (4), Jack Kramer (5), Björn Borg (6), Pancho Gonzales (1), Bill Tilden (6), and Lew Hoad (1). McEnroe was still an active player and Laver, Borg, and Gonzales had only recently retired. In the imaginary tournament Laver beat McEnroe in the finals in 5 sets.

More recently, an Associated Press poll conducted in 1999 ranked Budge fifth, following Laver, Sampras, Tilden, and Borg. Even more recently, 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. In important polls, then, Budge has consistently been ranked in the top five or six. Perhaps only Tilden and Laver can boast such a high and long-standing critical assessment.

Grand Slam singles finals

Wins (6)

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

Runner-ups (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


  1. In his 1979 autobiography, the long-time promoter and great player himself, Jack Kramer, considered the best player ever to have been either 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.
  2. Jim Craig: Scotland's Sporting Curiosities, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2005
  3. Time magazine, September 2, 1935, in an article called Forest Hills Finale
  4. Time magazine, September 2, 1935, in an article called Forest Hills Finale
  5. Tennis Is My Racket, by Bobby Riggs, New York, 1949, pages 166-167.
  6. Tennis Is My Racket, by Bobby Riggs, New York, 1949, pages 166-167.
  7. Baltzell, E. Digby: Sporting Gentlemen: Men's Tennis from the Age of Honor to the Cult of the Superstar
  8. Grimsley, Will: Tennis: Its History, People and Events
  9. Metzler, Paul: Tennis Styles and Stylists


  • Sporting Gentlemen: Men's Tennis from the Age of Honor to the Cult of the Superstar, (1994), E. Digby Baltzell
  • Tennis: Its History, People and Events, (1971), Will Grimsley
  • Tennis Styles and Stylists, (1969), Paul Metzler
  • The Game, My 40 Years in Tennis (1979), Jack Kramer with Frank Deford (ISBN 0-399-12336-9)
  • Tennis Is My Racket, (1949), Bobby Riggs

External links