My Biofile Interview With Don Budge

Don Budge oil painting in the Hall of Fame museum.

Yes, I actually got the opportunity to do a Biofile interview with Don Budge. It was in 1997 at the Opening Ceremony for Ashe Stadium at US Open. Before the event began, I randomly walked by the corridor to the court where many legendary tennis figures were standing, waiting. I spotted Budge standing next to Gabriela Sabatini. It was the perfect moment to do an interview with the tennis legend from six decades earlier. Here is a piece of tennis history, exclusive to only readers of www.tennis-prose.com…

Childhood Heroes: “Joe DiMaggio, Bobby Jones, Otto Graham, Ellsworth Vines.”

Early Tennis Memory: “My older brother Lloyd said, ‘You have a good chance to do well in the California State Boys 15 and under if you practiced. But you’re too damn lazy to practice!’ I was having dinner at the time and I said to myself, ‘By gosh, I still have two weeks to practice before the California State Tournament and I entered it and won my first round match. My brother said, ‘Don, Congratulations.’ I said, ‘It’s only the first round.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but you beat the number one seed!’ I didn’t know that. So then I went ahead and I was lucky enough to win the boys 15 and under tournament. That made me think, Maybe I’m not so bad after all [smiles]. Try to do better. I kept on playing. Then I won National Junior Championship 18 and under. And then two years later I was number two in the US in the mens. I was making progress.”

Pre-Match Feeling: “I always tried my hardest. You never know you’re going to do well until you do well. So until you do, you just wonder if you’re gonna make it. I was a reasonably good competitor, I guess. And I could move okay. I just loved to compete.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “Hard to say. There were so many of them. Inducted in the Hall of Fame. Winning Wimbledon (1937 vs Gottfried von Cramm, 1938 vs Henry Austin). My national championships and the Davis Cup. Many.”

Most Painful Moment: “I don’t think I had any. I never liked to lose but I did lose a few matches. But I learned something. In every loss you should profit by the loss. And try to improve.”

Favorite Movies: “William Powell and Errol Flynn films. Errol Flynn was a very good athlete and a fun man and we became good friends later on.”

Most Treasured Possession: “My mother used to keep my trophies. At one point I had 1,019 trophies. She said, ‘I’m tired of polishing these. I’m going to put them in crates in the attic. Any time you want to come and get them you can.’ I think winning the Davis Cup over in England from England in 1937. And then going on to continue to win the Davis Cup. And all the national championships I won. Especially winning the Grand Slam, which I set out to do in the beginning of 1938.”

Nickname: “The Fire Dragon. I was told by the first guy who tried to help me, ‘You go out and beat everybody as hard as you can and make them scared of you. And they’re gonna be afraid to play you.’ And whoever I had to play in the tournament, someone would say, ‘Who do you have to play in the first round? Well, I’m being fed to The Fire Dragon.’ I had red hair back then.”

Childhood Ambition: “Playing at Wimbledon. Hoping to do well there. I used to cross the ferry boat in San Francisco. And I dreamed I was crossing the ferry to England from the United States and I was going to play at Wimbledon.”

Favorite Athletes To Watch: “I think Michael Jordan is a marvelous athlete. And anyone who does anything well. Ben Hogan. Sam Sneed. Pete Sampras. Pete is the only one to me who plays the game the way I think it should be played. And I think he’s going to win a Grand Slam sooner or later. After he won the US Championship (in 1990) I saw him in Philadelphia. He was going to play the tournament there. I said, “Pete, you’re going to be the next guy to win the Grand Slam. I think you’re going to do it. Now you go out and prove that I’m right.’ He said, ‘Do you really think so, Don?’ I said, “Yes, I do. I’m not just telling you for laughs. You have, by far, the best game of anyone playing today and I’m sure you can do it. Good luck to you and I’m rooting for you.'”

Interesting Fact: “I like to make furniture. I have a workshop at home and I’ve made sixty pieces of furniture for our house.”

First Job: “Wrapping packages for Wilson Sporting Goods in San Francisco.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “My great opponent was Gottfried von Cramm of Germany. One of the greatest sportsmen you’ll ever see. It was a thrill to walk out on the tennis court with him. His sportsmanship was so good. And I admire that, he was a classy guy.”

Hobbies/Interests: “Jazz music, play the drums. I used to play the drums for Benny Goodman’s orchestra, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, as am amateur [smiles]. They used to let me play drums whenever I showed up. It was an opportunity.”

Toughest Competitors Encountered: “Ellsworth Vines. I always thought when he was on his game, you might as well go home. Because he hit the ball so hard you weren’t gonna do too much. Jack Kramer. Pete Sampras. And maybe von Cramm.”

Worst Injury: “I never had any. I was lucky that way.”

Favorite Meal: “It varies. Armenian shishkebab. A Hungarian dish I like is chicken popadosh. My friend had a great Armenian restaurant in New York, The Golden Horn.”

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: “I don’t have one. I’m a bacon and eggs man.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Coffee.”

Funny Tennis Memory: “We have a ping pong table at our home. I took a fellow, a neighbor of mine up there to see our game room. He said, ‘Oh, do you play ping pong?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘You know, I’m a pretty good player.’ So I played him. And he said, ‘Gee, you’re pretty good, Don. I said, ‘Oh, I play much better right-handed.’ I played him left-handed and beat him easily. And he was quite chagrined [smiles]!”

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  • Hartt · June 10, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    Thanks, Scoop. That was fun. I am so glad he mentioned von Cramm. Every once in a while I reread “A Terrible Splendor,” about their famous Davis Cup match, and so much more. I think it is one of the most remarkable books dealing with sports that I have ever read.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 10, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks Hartt, I still can’t believe the random luck to not only walk by and spot J Donald Budge but it was the perfect time to do an interview while he stood there waiting. And he delivered a fantastic interview with many insights. Thank the tennis Gods for this one. Glad you enjoyed it too. Have not yet read that book but have heard many positive things about it.



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