Following in the tradition of the great Don Budge and Gottried von Cramm.
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Cramm thanked Budge for making it possible for him to play such a splendid match.
There are matches and matches, and there are shots you make and shots you miss and then there are those that, make or miss, you remember all your life. Budge-Cramm at the ‘37 interzonal, Nadal-Federer at the ‘08 Wimbledon final, this is where we see that in life you reach and reach and sometimes your grasp is just as long and sometimes it falls short.
I owe the information on that famous Budge-Cramm match to Marshall Jon Fisher, whose recent book A Terrible Splendor recounts the intersections of the lives of the two champions as well as their intersections with Tilden’s. For the sake of full disclosure, whatever that is, I should probably add that I wrote a review of that book for another publication, but as of this writing they are sitting on it and I forgot what I said, except that I rather liked the book so I must have said nice things about it.
The Nazis arrested Cramm and sent him to prison for a year on a morals charge. Budge organized an international protest. Cramm was released just before the war started and though the King of Sweden offered him asylum, he put on his uniform and went to the eastern front. He survived, as he did the July 20 plot in which he participated. He resumed his tennis career and became a grand and revered figure in German sports, but he was barred from entry in the U.S. due to his conviction in a Nazi court.
Thus it goes, I guess. He never complained. Budge had a good war too, and returned to the pro circuit, which he had joined just before the war started.
Budge was not the type of man who would speculate in public, or even, I suspect, in private, after a successful match as to whether he was the greatest of all time. But let’s face it, we live in a different culture, and Federer’s manner does not disqualify him as a good sport and a gentleman. He is always generous to his opponents, gracious with the fans. The Roger Federer Foundation supports sports education among poor kids in Africa and elsewhere. It partakes of the mission of UNICEF.
Jack Kramer, than whom few men have done more to promote tennis as a mass sport, wrote that “Budge was the best of all. He owned the most perfect set of mechanics and he was the most consistent.” This describes Roger Federer, and though he is behind Nadal on points in the rankings at the moment, you may be sure that if he wins at Wimbledon on July 5, as President Obama gets ready to fly to Accra, there will be a consensus that he is indeed number one again, if ever he really was not.
(Mr. Kaplan’s explanation of why his tennis activities contributed to John McCain’s loss last November can be found in our archives.)
*CORRECTION: In our article on the Wimbledon Championships, with reference to the fifth set tiebreaker rule, alert reader Frank Stieber of Arlington, Virginia, notes that “The fifth set tiebreaker is exclusive only to the U.S. Open and the Masters Cup final. The Aussie, Roland Garros,Wimbledon, and all Davis Cup ties have the ad-fifth set rule.” Thanks, and we stand corrected.
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