Gottfried von Cramm

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by egn, Jun 30, 2009.

  1. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Dec 3, 2006
    A 1939 article mentioning one key to Budge's dominance over von Cramm.

    (I think "break" here simply means kick.)

    Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 24, 1939

    Speed, Accuracy, Break Are Most Important to Get Into Your Service
    Sixth of [__] instructive articles on streamlined tennis
    Famous Coach and Three-Time National Women's Singles Champion
    Speed, accuracy and break -- in that order -- are the most important things to get into your service. Break used to be very important until Don Budge murdered the first break service in tennis -- that of Baron Von Cramm -- by standing inside the base line to receive it and taking it high before the ball had time to break severely. Vines has resorted to his cannonball style for both first and second service. In his professional matches with Budge he always tried to keep the ball low.​
  2. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Dec 3, 2006
    That was one of the keys to the matchup between von Cramm and Budge. Von Cramm had a tremendous kicking serve, and possibly the best second serve of the time period. He used that kicker to take the French final over Perry, who had a vulnerable backhand.

    Budge was a different story. Budge apparently did not mind a high-kicking serve to the backhand. He may even have preferred it, if I'm reading the above comment by Browne correctly. Vines, knowing that Budge could simply take kicking serves on the rise and drive them back, tried to keep both his first and second serves as flat as possible during their tour.

    Browne says that Vines used the "cannonball" on both first and second serves. I don't think that necessarily means that he was going for aces on second serves (although, who knows, maybe he was like Sampras in that regard), just that he was trying to keep the second serve as low as possible. That would have been fairly easy to do on the canvas indoor courts that Vines and Budge were mostly using.

    Budge pounded Perry's second serve during their five-setter at Forest Hills ('36). It seems that Budge was especially dangerous on the return if he had any time at all to take a swing. Vines was trying to take that time away with flat serving.

    Von Cramm had a great flat serve too (some news reports call it possibly the best in the game), and could theoretically have done the same.
  3. PDJ

    PDJ Legend

    Jun 20, 2012
    Absolutely fascinating thread. Just fascinating
    suwanee4712 likes this.
  4. kiki

    kiki Banned

    Feb 17, 2010
    What family he came from?
  5. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Dec 3, 2006
    Here's Budge talking at length about von Cramm in January '39:

    The reporter persistently directs his attention toward Budge. "What about Von Cramm?" he queries. "Have you heard from him?"

    There is no grin here as Budge answers concerning his German friend. "He'll never play competitive tennis again," he answers. "They've barred him from Davis Cup and tournament play, and Wimbledon has stated that it won't accept his entry."

    Somebody pipes up that there would be a perfect spot for him on an American tour. Budge says, "I had a letter from him this week and he won't play pro tennis. You know, he still has some of his estate and money left, and he thinks he is going to take a position with a Berlin banking house. But whatever his future is, there's no room for tennis in it any more."

    "You knew him pretty well, Don," suggests the reporter. "What's he like?"

    "The best there is," Budge is specific. "A fine gentleman and a fine sportsman--and a pretty fair country tennis player, too."​
    Von Cramm did play at Queens Club later that year, winning the title. Bowers writes that Budge and Tilden both visited him there, during the American pro tour of Europe.
  6. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Dec 3, 2006
    The classic Davis Cup match between von Cramm and Budge:

    Hat tip to @70sHollywood for noting that there were new uploads of British Movietone clips.
    Dan Lobb, PDJ and suwanee4712 like this.
  7. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Dec 3, 2006
    Their final at Wimbledon:

    And at Forest Hills:

    PDJ likes this.
  8. PDJ

    PDJ Legend

    Jun 20, 2012
    The US Final:
    Commenting on the women's final:
    "Jadnaaa...... what I said before"
    Translation: "Johnny Foreigner "

    Great clips. Thank you.
  9. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Dec 3, 2006
    I've recently found a number of articles written by Bunny Austin, published in the Gloucester Citizen in the late 1930s. He wrote several lengthy articles, discussing historical matches and who were the greatest players of all time, etc.

    Austin didn't consider Von Cramm to be one of the greatest, but the Davis Cup battle against Budge changed Austin's opinion about von Cramm's ability.

    Here's what Austin wrote about Von Cramm about a month before the great Davis Cup match (June 26):

    Von Cramm is the lucky possessor of a style suited to all conditions. He is one of the few players in the world who can wring speed even from the slower surfaces. Strangely enough he has developed a style not at all on the lines of the majority of players who have learnt their games on hard courts.

    Though Von Cramm plays mostly from the back of the court he is essentially an attacking player carrying great speed both in his service and in his drives. Over the last few years he has maintained a higher level of play than any other player.

    Seldom do we see Von Cramm sinking below a certain standard. On the other hand seldom do we see him rising above it. He is not a player of inspiration, but a player of good honest championship ability.

    All that Von Cramm does, though always consummate skill, is understandable to the spectator. One can, as it were, see the works of Von Cramm’s game. This, to my mind, is why Von Cramm has just fallen short of the very greatest players, and why, on most occasions, Perry was his master.

    Perry on his great days frequently made shots that left one wondering how on earth they were achieved, shots that seemed to rise above the understanding of the ordinary spectator, inspired, almost uncanny.

    Von Cramm is the workman, controlling superb strokes, most elegant in style and most destructive in operation. But never does he touch that height of inspiration that leaves the watcher gasping in amazement.

    This is just as well. The best of us can do little enough against him as it is.​

    So Austin admired Von Cramm, but as a workman-like player -- the best of that kind, but not a genius.

    (Similar words were used to describe Hans Nusslein, who was sometimes referred to as the German Robot.)

    Austin admitted he had been wrong about von Cramm, in this piece published on Aug. 24:



    By H. W. AUSTIN

    Of the lawn tennis season of 1937 there has been one outstanding feature—the improvement and the success of Donald Budge.

    I must confess that in 1935, when Budge first came to England, I did not visualise the player that he has become to-day.

    It was impossible, perhaps, not to see that one day he would become a champion, for at this, his first appearance, he became a Wimbledon semi-finalist and showed astonishing skill for a boy only 19 years of age,

    Yet, though his back-hand drive was already then terrific and his service beautifully produced and obviously capable of great development, his game scarcely foretold its present rounded perfection.

    His forehand drive was not a strong stroke, nor was it particularly well produced, and I, personally, wondered, in spite of its excellent results, whether the production of his back-hand was sound.

    Faster Service

    However, 1936 dispelled many of the doubts I held about the development of Budge's game. For his backhand drive had improved even on its showing of 1935. His service was faster, and his somewhat uncertain forehand was steadier. Moreover, at the end of the season he was hard on the heels of Perry, and had actually beaten him twice. Yet, though I could hardly doubt Budge's efficiency even then, I did not visualise the player he would become this year.

    This year Budge’s game was to me a revelation. All the awkwardness, which at first had made me fear for the stroke, had vanished from his backhand drive. It had become not only a stroke of power, but one of ease and grace. And his forehand had been transformed out of all knowledge and had become a stroke scarcely inferior to his backhand.

    His always perfectly produced service had become severer and more accurate, and his volleys, whether firm and deep or delicate and short, were faultless in execution and deadly in effect.

    Here, indeed, was as complete a player as it was possible to imagine, one who possessed a game that was all strength and played it at a speed and with a quiet confidence that it was well-nigh impossible to counter.

    It was only right and just that all the honours of lawn tennis should have fallen to one so eminently suited, both as a player and a person, to win them. And the manner in which he carried off not only all the singles events in tournament, championship, and Davis Cup, but the doubles as well, will live long in the memory of all those who were privileged to see him play.

    The Complete Budge

    Though I do not say that Tilden or Vines, by the power of their services and drives, or Perry by some innate inspiration which was peculiarly his, might not have beaten Budge, I do not believe that any player has ever lived with a sounder or more complete game or with a temperament better suited for championship lawn tennis.

    The unbeaten record of Budge in England in 1937, in spite of the number of matches that he played, must for ever be the most memorable feature of the season, eclipsing other events and other players. And standing out at a peak, as it were, in this record must be the match that he played against Von Cramm.

    Most players in their careers have days when the seemingly impossible happens, when for once everything that they attempt comes off. Such a day was Von Cramm’s when he played Budge in that vital Davis Cup tie when the scores of the two countries stood level at two matches all.

    I must again confess that I did not think that Von Cramm was capable of playing the lawn tennis that he played that day. Though a great player, I regarded him as a pedestrian player—that is to say, one who played according to the book, was well-drilled and efficient, but lacking the inspiration that such a player as Perry possesses, and unable to make those strokes that leave one wondering how they are achieved.

    Von Cramm Inspired

    I did indeed write of Von Cramm to this effect before Wimbledon, and his play at Wimbledon bore me out. But against Budge in the Davis Cup he gave the lie to all I had said.

    If ever a man was inspired, if ever a man made shots that left one wondering how they were achieved, it was Von Cramm that day. And with Budge playing his matchless, superb and flowing game, such a match resulted as will live for ever in the annals of the game. For speed and brilliance, intensity and closeness of competition, it can seldom have been rivalled.

    If any proof were needed of the greatness of Budge as a lawn tennis player, this match provided it. Possibly playing slightly below his best, he held, and eventually overcame, Von Cramm, who was a long way above any form that he had previously displayed.

    I have only one complaint against Budge. Previous to my playing him in the Davis Cup I had won 9 Davis Cup matches against Americans out of 9.

    In his anxiety to maintain his unbeaten record in England he destroyed my unbeaten record against Americans. But, as he in his modesty would reply, "Well it's nothing to do with me. You're just too hospitable, that's all.”​

    Incidentally, as highly as Austin praises Budge here, at this moment in time he still regarded Vines as a better player, as he wrote in another article earlier in the summer. In the same article he says that Budge now has a better game than Perry, but he thought that Perry would still prevail in a direct matchup between the two, because Perry was capable of making those kinds of extraordinary shots that he talks about in the article above.

    Austin's view of greatness clearly placed great value on extraordinary shotmaking ("genius" shots, even if he doesn't use that term); so for him to allow that Von Cramm was a player capable of such shotmaking is, I think, significant, and not just generic praise.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2015
  10. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Dec 3, 2006
    Austin stated that Von Cramm seldom rose above a certain level. However in 1934 the Berliner Morgenpost "noted that Von Cramm often played over his head" (as related by Bowers); they said that his upcoming pro-am match against Nusslein "could be the match of his life." And by all accounts von Cramm played superbly in that match, handling the pressure very well, with all of Germany and most of the tennis world watching.

    So Von Cramm was probably more of the "inspired" type than Austin gives him credit for. The Davis Cup match against Budge was not an isolated event; von Cramm had already been known for playing "over his head."

    But maybe there's something to Austin's idea that von Cramm's level was very steady, in the sense that he didn't run hot and cold. His level never fell too low, which is undoubtedly why Austin pays him that extraordinary compliment: "Over the last few years he has maintained a higher level of play than any other player".

    That steadiness may well have been one reason that von Cramm was especially strong on clay.

    Austin was probably right in saying that von Cramm played, against Budge, the greatest tennis of his life; everyone who saw the match seemed to think so. The real question is whether this was just a one-time instance of someone playing "out of his skin" (as we say today), never to repeat the performance.

    I don't think it was. Von Cramm pushed Budge to five sets again in their next meeting, at Forest Hills; a few months later he beat Budge on grass in Australia, 6-4, 8-10, 12-10 in a match that drew almost as much praise as the Davis Cup rubber. One writer called it "the best tennis ever witnessed in the Commonwealth."

    So the Budge/Cramm matches were getting closer. In that sense the Davis Cup match doesn't look like an isolated instance of "zoning". The pattern suggests von Cramm was actually improving.

    Unfortunately this improvement was soon shut down, with his imprisonment in early '38. After that there's just very little to go on; he got to play very little in '39, and then the war broke out.

    I don't know if he could have become a player on the level of Budge/Vines/Perry. But I think the possibility was there.
  11. NonP

    NonP Hall of Fame

    Jul 22, 2009
    I also suspect von Cramm was flashier than Austin suggests in that long article of his, in fact I'd always thought he was closer to the "inspired" type. In his book (the chapter on Budge, to be precise) Vines calls the German aristocrat "easily the greatest player who failed to capture the two big titles of tennis [Forrest Hill and Wimbledon]" with "the best American twist the game has ever seen" that would make him one of the exceedingly few (along with Newk, according to Kramer) who could attack the net against Budge's return. And then he also says this:

    I don't see how anyone could read all that and conclude von Cramm was more in the Djokovic/Lendl mold that was day in and day out consistent but lacked the artistry of a McEnroe, Leconte, Federer, Rios, etc.

    And speaking of whom if there was one oldster who I thought fit that mold it was Perry, with that legendary stamina and tenacity of his which I'd say he's still most famous for (except maybe for his FH). Later in the Vines book Riggs describes the Brit as "[t]he most ruthless player who ever walked on a court" with "[a]n inexorable determination which even outdid Kramer's, or Gonzales's. Not only did Perry have the ultimate in competitive spirit but a stamina which was a constant source of awe to opponents. Such a big edge it's unbelievable."

    Of course competitiveness and brilliance aren't always exclusive, but again reading these select accounts (not to mention many others in the same vein) one could be forgiven for thinking these two players were the exact opposite in skill set and temperament. And the thing is that we don't know if these observers were telling the full truth, however respected they are, and also if mere words can ever adequately convey the truth to others, an issue we keep returning to. I don't mean to make a flip reference here that might oversimplify this issue but Wittgenstein certainly had a point when he emphasized context over abstract meaning in our never-ending "language-games."

    (BTW I very much enjoyed reading Riggs' sharp remarks on fellow players past and contemporary. One of the book's highlights.)
  12. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Dec 3, 2006
    It's definitely all about context. Perry, when he played Vines, was always described as the consistent one. But there are other descriptions of him that say his game is all about attack -- one writer gives that as the reason why Perry is less strong on clay than on grass. In some ways he was very consistent, but I've run across reports about lesser events where Perry is described as if he could not care less. He was known for playing his best in the really high-stakes events like Davis Cup, and he seems to have need that inspiration to play his best. So he was the "inspired" type you could say.

    But von Cramm was very much the same in those high-pressure situations. And his 5-set record is extraordinary.

    Von Cramm's game was based heavily on attack. He had more winners than Budge, both in their Davis Cup match and in their 5-setter at Forest Hills.

    I suspect Austin knew Perry somewhat better than he knew von Cramm; but the Davis Cup match did seem to change his mind about Cramm.

    In '36 Tilden recalled the sole meeting between von Cramm and Nusslein. Tilden, at that time, regarded Nusslein as the best player in the world over 365 days, bar none; but he admitted that "two years ago, on an inspired day, Von Cramm beat Nusslein." There is some evidence that Nusslein was ill on that day, but that still would not detract from how well von Cramm handled that match.

    ALT wrote:

    the interest everywhere that was occasioned by the Baron Gottfried von Cramm-Hans Nusslein match was insignificant compared to the furor aroused in the German press both before and after the match ...The biggest contrast between the two men was in their match play temperament. Von Cramm showed wonderful fighting spirit in the pinches, but Nusslein tightened up and became too careful. The amateur’s service was a real weapon while his opponent’s was an outstanding weakness. Nusslein almost never went to the net, a position that was nearly always a winning one for von Cramm. Nusslein’s stroking was amazingly deft and facile but it did not maintain the constant pressure that resulted from von Cramm’s less dexterous racket work. The inability of Nusslein to reach the form that was expected of him was disappointing, and yet the jubilation of the crowd over the popular von Cramm’s victory was complete.​

    Nusslein is another one where context matters completely. He was possibly the most consistent player around and was termed "the German Robot." He really was consistency personified; but there were many people who appreciated him and hardly regarded him as merely mechanical. One quote from '39: "Many critics feel that the German professional, Hans Nusslein, is the finest all-round stylish player in the world."
  13. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

    Aug 10, 2009
    Here's a detailed report of what might have been the greatest singles match Gottfried von Cramm was ever involved in, even though he lost it.

    1937 Davis Cup Inter-zone final: USA vs Germany

    Donald Budge d. Gottfried von Cramm 6-8, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 8-6

    [Played Tuesday, July 20, 1937, on the Centre Court at Wimbledon]

    From ‘Lawn and Badminton’, July 24, 1937

    “There was no sign of Donald Budge’s reported shoulder strain when he faced Gottfried von Cramm in the deciding match. The remarkable feature of the opening games, indeed, was von Cramm’s speed of drive, which he has augmented since the [Wimbledon] Championships, by taking an earlier ball.

    “Both men were at the peak of their form from the first rally, and fortune fluctuated for the first eight games, Budge winning his service with rather more ease. The American then broke through after a ninth game of five deuces, both men struggling to gain the net position, tactics which were to prevail for most of the match. Von Cramm made up the leeway in unexpected manner by taking Budge’s service to love, and played an inspired game in the forecourt in reaching 6-5 and 7-6. Budge had to rely on his cannonballs to level at 6-all. In the fourteenth game the American failed to bring off a single service ace, and was deprived of the net position by von Cramm’s length returns of service which he followed up. At 30-all Budge conceded two groundstroke errors under pressure, and the first set was Germany’s.

    “Reliable groundstrokes of fine length enabled von Cramm to continue his forecourt attack in the second set. He came within a point of a breakthrough in the sixth set, and, though foiled at this point, he kept his odd game lead up to 5-4 and 6-5. Budge reached 40-0 in the twelfth game. At this point his service failed him. He was caught at deuce, and conceding a forehand error for ‘vantage out, saw von Cramm leap across to make a winning volley to win the set.

    “Clearly von Cramm would not be able to maintain such hurricane tactics without an easy [?] The two sets had required sixty-five minutes’ play. It was therefore no surprise when he remained on his baseline in the third set, exploiting drop shots as he recovered his energies. He lost his service in the first game, and again in the fifth, and made little effort to force the pace thereafter, the set going to Budge at 6-4

    “The interval may have refreshed von Cramm, but his touch had disappeared in the fourth set. He lost his first two services for 0-3 against Budge’s superior control, and could make no impression on the American’s service, winning only three points all told in Budge’s three following deliveries. Two sets-all.

    “Von Cramm braced at the start of the fifth set, and, re-finding his first set form, advanced to 2-1 on service, backed up by forceful volleying, and broke through for 3-1. Budge’s forehand was inclined to wilt when attacked hard, and he conceded three groundstroke errors in losing his delivery to 30. Two more forehand errors from Budge helped von Cramm to go ahead to 4-1 to love.

    “The fortunes of the match changed in surprising manner in the following games. Budge won his service for 2-4, and recovered further lost ground in breaking through (to 15) for 3-4 on the German’s errors. Von Cramm lost an invaluable chance of victory when he failed to clinch game point (twice) for a 5-3 lead, hitting down a service return and clearing the line with his passing shot. In turn, Budge held the game point for 5-4, but failed to clinch it. However, he won the tenth game safely with the loss of one point. Five-all.

    “Two love games left the score at 6-all, and Budge covered his court magnificently in the 13th game in breaking through to love, forcing an error from the German, scoring with a passing shot, and again making his opponent concede two forehand errors as he commanded the net position. The fourteenth and last game required 18 points. Von Cramm courageously saved two match points by winning service returns, and two more on Budge’s errors. Eventually von Cramm carried the lines again, and Budge hit a winning passing shot to gain the victory after two hours and fifteen minutes’ play.

    “The stroke analysis shows that winner and loser were practically equal at the finish on winning drives, volleys and service aces. Budge scored more passing shots (19 to 13), made the fewer driving errors (54 to 61) and the fewer volleying errors (3 to 11). Budge scored 113 winning aces and made 60 errors; von Cramm 105 aces and 76 errors. [...]

    “It was the consensus of opinion at the finish that the match was one of the finest, if not the finest, which has ever been seen on the present ground at Wimbledon. The epic between Ellsworth Vines and Jack Crawford in the 1933 Championship final may have maintained a higher level of excellence throughout. On Monday [Tuesday] last von Cramm was not ‘all out’ in the third and fourth sets.

    “The astonishing speed in the exchange of shots reached its peak during the first two sets in which Budge and von Cramm each scored 58 aces, the American conceding 30 errors to his rival’s 25 – statistics which point to the high level of excellence in the great pace maintained by both. Where last Tuesday’s match differed from the 1933 Championship final was in the recovery Budge made in the last set; Crawford and Vines had played level up to 4-all in their fifth set.”
    PDJ likes this.
  14. Dan Lobb

    Dan Lobb Legend

    Oct 31, 2011
    This is absolutely historic and incredible footage.
  15. pc1

    pc1 G.O.A.T.

    Jul 18, 2008
    Space/Time continuum alternative reality
    Nice stuff.

Share This Page