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Budge finishes a clean sweep

Don Budge is the only American man to win tennis' Grand Slam in a calendar year.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 10, 1999


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Don Budge had it all figured out a year ahead of time. He would win the Grand Slam of tennis, holding all four titles in the same year. On Sept. 24, 1938, after waiting an extra three days, he did it.

Sixty-one years later, he still is the only American man to achieve that feat.

"I set out to do it," Budge said in an interview last year. "I looked in the record books and saw that Bill Tilden never did it. Ellsworth Vines, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzalez -- all never did it.

"So I went down there ostensibly to win the four," he said of the Australian Open, the first of the tournaments that made up the Grand Slam. "And I said to (doubles partner) Gene Mako, "Don't tell anyone I'm trying to win the Grand Slam because they'll all be waiting for it.' He said, "Okay, I'll be rooting for you.' "'

In Australia, he defeated Jack Bromwich 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 in a 47-minute final following a 23-day ocean voyage from the United States.

He needed just 58 minutes to beat Roderick Menzel 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the French final.

That, technically, gave him the Grand Slam, since he had won four in a row starting with the 1937 British and U.S. championships. But that wasn't good enough for Budge. In his mind, he still had two tournaments to win.

Next up: Wimbledon. Again Budge cruised, this time dispatching Henry Austin 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

Now all that remained was the U.S. National (it became the U.S. Open, for amateurs and professionals, in 1968). And the man in his way: Mako, the only man who knew he had mapped out this odyssey.

On Sept. 21, the Long Island Express, a hurricane that would devastate parts of New England, swept up the Atlantic coast. Forest Hills, then the site of the tournament, was drenched. It took three days for the courts to be made playable. In the interim, Budge and Mako hung out together in New York. "We both loved music and Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman were in town at the time," Budge said. "So we were both getting back at 1 o'clock (in the morning). As long as we both got back at the same time, it didn't matter."

On Sept. 24, Budge completed his master plan with a 6-3, 6-8, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Mako in the final. "Someone said I threw a set to Gene because he was my doubles partner," Budge said. "I said, "At that point, I wouldn't have thrown a set to my mother.' "

Australian Rod Laver was born in 1938, the year of Budge's feat. He became the other man to sweep the Grand Slam, in 1962 and again in 1969.

"I just can't believe that out of all the players we've produced, no one else has done it," Budge said. "I thought Pete Sampras was going to do it, but he hasn't. He's got to win the French."


-- Information from the Asbury Park Press was used in this report.

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