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Join Date: Dec 2006
TIME magazine profiled von Cramm as the US Championships got underway in '37. Excerpt below in two parts.
One of the most fiercely competitive of all games, amateur tennis has no international championship. To answer the constantly perplexing question as to who is the best amateur player in the world, the chief contenders must rely on meeting either in team play for the Davis Cup or in the grand tour's series of national championships. In the days when Tilden, Richards and Johnston were the world's three top-ranking players and the U. S. won the Davis Cup with monotonous regularity, the U. S. Singles was as great a championship as any tennist could win. Since then a new generation of players, headed by the gaunt-faced figure of England's Frederick John Perry, has shifted the spotlight inexorably to Wimbledon. For the past four years Forest Hills has been notable to tennists chiefly because Fred Perry appeared there.
Last week it was the fact that Fred Perry would not appear there that made the U. S. singles once more promise to be not only the conclusion but the climax of the tennis season. Having withdrawn to the professional ranks, Fred Perry has, like Ellsworth Vines before him, given the season that refreshing stimulation that follows the abdication of a recognized champion. The question he left behind him was one that Forest Hills would go a long way toward answering. It was simply whether J. Donald Budge of Oakland, Calif., having achieved almost single-handed the return of the Davis Cup to the U. S. this year for the first time since 1926, and having smashed his way to an unprecedented triple victory in the All-England singles, doubles, and mixed doubles at Wimbledon, is the best amateur tennis player in the world.
The U. S. field was good but there was no one in it whom Donald Budge should be expected to fear. Of his Davis Cup teammates, Frank Parker is a precise but lacklustre youth who has never fulfilled his apparent potentialities, and Atlanta's bantam Bryan ("Bitsy") Grant is a highly erratic performer. California's most recent schoolboy sensation, 19-year-old Robert Riggs, who was seeded No. 2 among his countrymen and proceeded to put Gene Mako out as the matches got under way at Forest Hills last week, had bowed to Budge when they met at Newport last month.
The foreign field seemed to present a more effective picture. It was one of the largest and best to appear at Forest Hills in recent years, including Japan's No. 1 Jiro Yamagishi, France's No. 2 Yvon Petra, England's No. 2 Charles Edgar Hare. England's No. 1 Bunny Austin was not there, but Budge had already given him a conclusive beating this year in the Davis Cup challenge round. The player who seemed to stand firmly in Donald Budge's path, however, was none of these. At Forest Hills for the first time in his life and representing his nation there for the first time since the War was the man who is currently supposed to be at least the world's second best amateur and may well be the best, Germany's Baron Gottfried von Cramm.
Champions. Tennis' unofficial No. 1 and unofficial No. 2 are technically almost twins. Both hit with apparently effortless length and accuracy, forehand and backhand; both have a deadly overhead, a stinging service. Both are stylists whose repertory takes in all the shots that tennis knows. All-court players, they can chop, drop-shot, lob or volley with equal fluency. But no two characters could be so antipodal as 22-year-old Donald Budge and 28-year-old Gottfried von Cramm.
Even more than his contemporaries, Parker (ne Paikowski) and Riggs, the offspring respectively of a Polish laborer and an impoverished minister, Donald Budge, son of an Oakland laundry truck driver, is the archetype of the thousands of prodigious youngsters who since the War have taken U. S. tennis away from Society and made it the remarkable thing it is. When he became an international celebrity at Wimbledon two years ago, Donald Budge's sophistication was such that he cheerily waved his racket at Queen Mary in the royal box. Gottfried von Cramm, who put Budge out in the semi-finals that year, greeted the Queen with the courtliest bow of the dav.
Today a maturing international competitor at an age when many a great U. S. tennis player has flashed and expired, blond, green-eyed, handsome Gottfried von Cramm stands a husky 6 ft., plays with the sureness and ease of a methodically trained master. One of the seven sons of an Oxford-educated, tennis-loving Junker, he used to roll the courts for his father and brothers on the family estate, Oelber, near the little village of Nettlingen in Hannover. He started to play at the age of 9. Four years later, asked what his plans for the future were, he soberly replied: "World's Tennis Champion."
By that time he had attracted the attention of two of his father's guests at Oelber, Professional Roman Najuch and Otto Froitzheim, the finest tennist in German history. Froitzheim commented that young Gottfried's brand of tennis was "good." But Gottfried foreshadowing the day when he would become the most self-critical player of his generation, noted: "Good (but, unfortunately, not very good)."
In 1927, preparing to enter the German junior championships, young von Cramm smartly telephoned the tennis club to find out what brand of ball would be used, religiously used the prescribed brand in practice. The committee at the last moment shifted to another brand and methodical von Cramm was quickly eliminated. The next year he decided to move to Berlin where he could receive better instruction.
So, aged 19, Gottfried von Cramm leased a flat in swank suburban Charlottenburg, simultaneously entered the University of Berlin as a student of law (his family wanted him to go into diplomacy) and the exclusive Rot-Weiss Club as a student of tennis. He was soon spending most of the money that came from Oelber on lessons with famed Professional Robert Kleinschroth. Two years later, after he had progressed to the point of beating Tilden-trained Wilbur Coen Jr., he got his father's permission to marry his childhood friend, dark, vivacious Baroness Lisa von Dobeneck, and to abandon his studies in favor of a career in tennis.
For methodical Gottfried von Cramm that meant a rigid training schedule with no alcohol or tobacco, eleven hours' sleep every night, long hours of practice at the Rot-Weiss club with Teacher Kleinschrroth, who, he now believes, "contributed more to my game than any other instructor." What Teacher Kleinschroth contributed was not only an array of effective strokes but the habit of not depending on any one of them. Froitzheim had taught him the necessity of sound ground strokes and good physical condition. All these qualities were beginning to be apparent in 1931 when he handily won his first big tournament, the Greek National Singles Championship, but when Gottfried von Cramm returned to Germany, he was not included in the German Davis Cup team. The team lost to South Africa, and von Cramm had the satisfaction of giving a sound beating to the South African No. i, Louis Raymond, in a later tournament. When he further distinguished himself that year by reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, he became Germany's white hope on the Davis Cup team.