Archive for bobby riggs

John Donald Budge (1915-2000)

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2008 by BDC

Don Budge (center) with the 1937 U.S. Davis Cup team

Don Budge’s name will be familiar to many readers as the winner of the first official “Grand Slam” in tennis history, having swept the major Australian, French, Wimbledon, and U.S. Championships in 1938.  This, however, only scratches the surface of Budge’s incredible career.  He won an all-time record six straight majors as an amateur between 1937 and 1938, achieving a 92-match winning streak along the way.  (According to Bud Collins the only longer unbeaten run was by Bill Tilden in the mid-1920s, though Tilden was competing only in America and against less robust opposition.)  Budge also won what many observers still consider the greatest match of all time against Baron Gottfried Von Cramm in the 1937 Davis Cup semifinal.

It can be argued, of course, that two of the best players in the world, Ellsworth Vines and Fred Perry, were not in amateur competition during Budge’s great two-year amateur run, as they were engaged in the early professional tours.  Budge, however, turned pro himself in 1939 and defeated both Vines and Perry in series of matches, leaving no doubts as to who was the greatest player of their time.  Budge’s peak years were sadly cut short by World War II.  Budge sustained a shoulder injury while in service that would hamper him for the rest of his career.  Nevertheless, after the war Budge continued to compete at the highest level, losing narrowly to Bobby Riggs in their 1946 tour.  An aging Budge also reached the finals of the U.S. Pro Championships in 1949 and 1953, losing first to Riggs, then to Pancho Gonzales, who would dominate pro tennis for nearly a decade.

Budge’s predecessors and successors alike have stood in awe of his unbreakable all-court game.  Tilden called him “the finest player 365 days a year that ever lived.”  Jack Kramer, the foremost player of the late 1940s and early 1950s, often stated that Budge was the best player of all time (followed in his opinion by Vines and Tilden) until he revised his judgment two years ago in favor of Roger Federer.  Budge’s backhand has been universally admired; it is often regarded as the single greatest shot in the history of tennis.  Julius Heldman, in his piece “Styles of the Greats” (1971), argued that Budge’s forehand was nearly as good.  The great sportswriter Will Grimsley wrote in 1971 that Budge was “considered by many to be foremost among the all-time greats.”  E. Digby Baltzell echoed this sentiment in his book Sporting Gentlemen (1994), where he wrote that Budge and Rod Laver, the only two male players to have won the official Grand Slam, “have usually been rated at the top of any all-time World Champions list, Budge having a slight edge.”  Polls and experts have routinely listed Budge among the top five or six players in the history of tennis, even though knowledge about him has recently declined.

For me, Budge remains among the top four players who ever lived.  Along with Tilden, Ken Rosewall, and Laver, he is one of tennis’s greatest all-court, all-surface champions, and like them he was nearly as good a doubles player as he was in singles.  In fact, to this day Budge holds one of the most impressive records in tennis history, having won the so-called “Wimbledon Slam” (consisting of the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles) in back-to-back years.  He had every shot, and no part of his game could be considered a weakness.  Budge could pound the ball hard like Vines, and he could take the ball on the rise like Henri Cochet or Perry.  Even though he did not have the fast cannonball service of Tilden, Vines, or Gonzales, Budge’s serve was considered one of the heaviest in his day.  Though Budge was most comfortable playing from the baseline, he was also adept at net, and he even had an excellent stroke volley–a shot which many of today’s fans wrongly believe was a recent invention!

Don Budge is the only tennis player in history to be named Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press twice (1937 and 1938).  He was dominant both as an amateur and as a pro.  That he conquered such first-class rivals during his years at the top–Tilden, Vines, Perry, Von Cramm, and Riggs (prior to World War II), among others–solidifies his claim to tennis greatness, and his heroic comeback victory in the epic 1937 Davis Cup match against Von Cramm lifts his name into the realm of sporting legend.  (I recommend reading Budge’s A Tennis Memoir, especially the first chapter where Budge retells the story of this classic match in some detail.  See also this link for an audio recording of Budge’s post-match comments from 1937, and follow this link for a short video clip of the famous Budge backhand.)

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The Seabright Invitational

Posted in Tournaments with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2008 by BDC

Bobby Riggs, four-time winner of the Seabright Invitational

I was recently in Rumson, New Jersey, where I was able to see the Seabright Lawn Tennis and Cricket Club.  A National Historic Landmark, Seabright was founded in 1877, the same year as the first Wimbledon, making it the oldest tennis club in the United States.  Though it is now a highly exclusive (and expensive) private venue for members only, for years its grass courts also hosted the very prestigious Seabright Invitational.  Since there is precious little information out there about this historic event, I thought I would share what I know.

I have found conflicting data re: when the inaugural tournament was held.  A TIME Magazine article from 1950 reports that the first winner at Seabright was Beals Wright in 1903, but my records indicate that Bill Larned won a tournament at Seabright as early as 1895.  (My records also show that Holcombe Ward won the title in 1903, beating Larned in the final.)  Dick Williams, a Titanic survivor and mercurial talent, was the earliest repeat champion at Seabright with victories in 1914, 1915, and 1916.  Williams would later reach the final three additional times, losing in 1921, 1922, and 1923 to Little Bill Johnston.

The Invitational was put on hold in 1917 and 1918 due to the war, after which Big Bill Tilden, who would dominate American and global competition in the 1920s, defeated Leonard Beekman 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 in the 1919 Seabright final.  Johnston and then Vinnie Richards (1925 and 1926) took their turns as kings of Seabright before Tilden made his triumphant return in 1927 with a straight-set win over Frank Hunter.  Ellsworth Vines, one of the most powerful and erratic players of all time and a top star of the 1930s, suffered a blowout loss to Sidney Wood in 1930 but was victorious the following year in an epic 10-12, 6-8, 6-3, 8-6, 6-1 final opposite John Doeg.

Immediately prior to World War II, Seabright was dominated by Bobby Riggs, who won a record four titles in 1937, 1938, 1940, and 1941.  He enjoyed an especially dramatic triumph over Frank Kovacs in the 1940 final, coming back from two sets to love down.  After a world war again interrupted play at the Seabright Invitational, in 1946 Jack Kramer overcame Gardner Mulloy with a dominant 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 performance.  Kramer would go on to dominate amateur tennis in 1947, and he then embarked on a hugely successful professional career in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  The tournament at Seabright, however, closed its doors in 1950.  In a way, its demise marked the end of an era, as the pro circuit increasingly claimed the best players, and the tennis world began its inexorable march toward the Open Era.