Gottfried von Cramm

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Gottfried von Cramm
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13555, Davis-Pokal, Gottfried von Cramm und Rogers.jpg
Gottfried von Cramm (left) and George Lyttleton-Rogers of Ireland in 1932
Full name Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt Freiherr von Cramm
Country (sports)  German Empire
 Nazi Germany
 West Germany
Born (1909-07-07)7 July 1909
Nettlingen, Germany
Died 8 November 1976(1976-11-08) (aged 67)
Cairo, Egypt
Height 1.83 m (6 ft 0 in)
Turned pro 1931 (amateur tour)
Retired 1952
Plays Right-handed (1-handed backhand)
Int. Tennis HoF 1977 (member page)
Highest ranking No. 1 (1937, World's First 10)[1]
Grand Slam Singles results
Australian Open SF (1938)
French Open W (1934, 1936)
Wimbledon F (1935, 1936, 1937)
US Open F (1937)
Grand Slam Doubles results
Australian Open F (1938)
French Open W (1937)
US Open W (1937)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
Wimbledon W (1933)

Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt Freiherr von Cramm (English: Baron[A][2] Gottfried von Cramm, German pronunciation: [ˈɡɔtˌfʀiːt fɔn ˈkʁam]; 7 July 1909 – 8 November 1976), was a German amateur tennis champion who won the French Open twice. He was ranked number 2 in the world in 1934 and 1936, and number 1 in the world in 1937.[1][3][4] He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1977, an organisation which considers that he is "most remembered for a gallant effort in defeat against Don Budge in the 1937 Interzone Final at Wimbledon".[5]

Von Cramm represented Germany during the rise of the Nazi party to power in the 1930s. The Nazi regime attempted to exploit von Cramm's appearance and skill as a symbol of Aryan supremacy, but he refused to identify with Nazism. He was persecuted as a homosexual by the German government and jailed briefly in 1938.

Von Cramm figured briefly in the gossip columns as the sixth husband of Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress.


The third of the seven sons of Burchard Baron (Freiherr) von Cramm, and his wife Jutta, née von Steinberg, Gottfried was born at the family estate near Nettlingen, Lower Saxony, Germany. The family title, which was bestowed upon his paternal grandfather in 1891, was inherited in 1936 by Gottfried's eldest brother, Aschwin. Another brother, Wilhelm-Ernst Freiherr von Cramm (1917–1996), was a highly decorated German officer during World War II, and was later head of the German Party, a conservative German political party.

Tennis career[edit]

In 1932, von Cramm earned a berth as a Davis Cup competitor for his country and immediately won the first of four straight German national championships.[6] During this time he also teamed up with Hilde Krahwinkel to win the 1933 Mixed Doubles title at Wimbledon. Noted for his gentlemanly conduct and fair play, he gained the admiration and respect of his fellow tennis players. He earned his first individual Grand Slam title in 1934, winning the French Open. His victory made him a national hero in his native Germany; however, it was by chance that he won just after Adolf Hitler had come to power. The handsome, blond Gottfried von Cramm fitted perfectly the Aryan race image of a Nazi ideology that put pressure on all German athletes to be superior. However, von Cramm steadfastly refused to be a tool for Nazi propaganda. Germany effectively lost its 1935 Davis Cup Interzone Final against the US when von Cramm refused to take match point in the deciding game, by notifying the umpire that the ball had tipped his racket, and thus calling a point against himself, though no one had witnessed the error.[7]

For three straight years he was the men's singles runner-up at the Wimbledon Championships, losing memorable matches in the finals to England's Fred Perry in 1935 and again in 1936. The following year he lost in the finals to American Don Budge, both at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open. In 1935, he was beaten in the French Open finals by Perry, but turned the tables the following year and defeated Perry, for his second French championship. In an attempt to get von Cramm to be more cooperative ideologically, the Nazi regime punished his previous unwillingness by not allowing him to compete in the 1937 French championship, even though he was the defending champion.[citation needed]

Despite his Grand Slam play, Gottfried von Cramm is most remembered for his deciding match against Don Budge during the 1937 Davis Cup. He was ahead 4–1 in the final set when Budge launched a comeback, eventually winning 8–6 in a match considered by many as the greatest battle in the annals of Davis Cup play and one of the pre-eminent matches in all of tennis history.[5] In a later interview, Budge said that von Cramm had received a phone call from Hitler minutes before the match started and had come out pale and serious and had played each point as though his life depended on winning.[8] Others say Budge believed a tale invented by Teddy Tinling (at the time the "call boy" who ushered players onto the Centre Court at Wimbledon) that Hitler had telephoned von Cramm before the match.[9]

Imprisonment on morals charges[edit]

Despite his enormous popularity with the public, on 5 March 1938, von Cramm was arrested by the German government and tried for homosexuality.[10] After being hospitalized for a nervous collapse after his arrest, on 14 March he was sentenced to one year's imprisonment[11] for his relationship with Manasse Herbst, a young Galician Jewish actor and singer, who had appeared in the 1926 silent film Der Sohn des Hannibal. Von Cramm admitted the relationship, which lasted from 1931 until 1934, and had begun shortly before he married his first wife. He was additionally charged with sending money to Herbst, who had moved to Palestine in 1936. According to a 15 May 1938 report about the trial in the New York Times, the judge stated that "Baron von Cramm had alleged that his wife, during their honeymoon, had become intimate with a French athlete. The court held that this experience had unsettled the young tennis star and had resulted in his seeking a perverse compensation for an unhappy married life."[12] Although von Cramm had confessed to an affair with Herbst once he was arrested, he later changed his confession to one of "mutual masturbation", and his lawyer was able to convince the judge that von Cramm had been forced into passing money to Herbst because Herbst was a "sneaky Jew."[13]

Von Cramm's international tennis friends were outraged at his treatment. Don Budge collected the signatures of high-profile athletes and sent a protest letter to Hitler. Von Cramm was released on parole after six months,[10] and in May 1939 returned to competitive tennis. The extremely tense political climate caused problems when he went to play in England. Nevertheless, von Cramm was allowed to compete at the Queen's Club tournament in London, where he won the event by beating American Bobby Riggs 6–0, 6–1. Officials at Wimbledon reportedly refused to let him play in their tournament, using the excuse that he was a convicted criminal and therefore unfit; The New York Times, however, quoted Wimbledon sources as saying that von Cramm would have been welcome to participate, had he submitted an entry. The U.S. rejected von Cramm's temporary-visa application that same year, citing his morals-charge conviction, and preventing him from playing at the U.S. Open in September.[citation needed]

A further humiliation was Germany's 1940 decision to recall von Cramm from an international tennis tournament in Rome before he had a chance to play. The New York Times reported that his abrupt departure "was attributed to the German authorities' desire to prevent the former champion from meeting Henner Henkel, Rolf Goepffert, and other German players...Berlin decided it would be embarrassing if Cramm beat his compatriots..."[citation needed]

Wartime service and postwar career[edit]

After the outbreak of World War II, von Cramm was drafted into military service in May 1940[10] as a member of the Hermann Goering Division.[citation needed] He saw action on the Eastern Front and was awarded the Iron Cross.[14] Despite his noble background, von Cramm was enlisted as a private until he was given a company to command. His company faced the harsh conditions of the Eastern Front, and von Cramm was flown out because of frostbite with much of his company dead. Because of his previous conviction he was dismissed from military service in 1942.[10]

While war robbed von Cramm of some of his best years for tennis, he won the German national championship in 1948 and was 40 years old when he won it for the last time in 1949. He played Davis Cup tennis until retiring after the 1953 season and still holds the record for most wins by any German team member.

Following his retirement from active competition, von Cramm served as an administrator for the German Tennis Federation and became successful in business as a cotton importer. In addition, he managed the farm property he had inherited from his father in Wispenstein, in Lower Saxony.


Gottfried von Cramm married:

  • Baroness Elisabeth "Lisa" von Dobeneck (1912–1975), a daughter of Robert, Baron von Dobeneck and his wife, the former Maria Hagen, a granddaughter of the Jewish banker Louis Hagen.[15] They married on 1 September 1930 and divorced in 1937.[16] Lisa von Cramm later married the German ice-hockey star Gustav Jaenecke.
  • Barbara Hutton, an American socialite and an heiress to the Woolworth five-and-dime fortune. The couple married in 1955 and divorced in 1959. He had married her in order to "help her through substance abuse and depression but was unable to help her in the end."[13]


While on a business trip, von Cramm and his driver were killed in an automobile accident near Cairo, Egypt, in 1976, when the baron's car collided with a truck. In his honor, Gottfried-von-Cramm-Weg in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, where the Rot-Weiss Tennis Club is located, as well as a similarly named road in the small town of Merzig, were named for him,.

Von Cramm was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1977.[5]

In his 1979 autobiography, Jack Kramer, the long-time tennis promoter and a great player himself, included Gottfried von Cramm in his list of the 21 greatest players of all time.[17] Von Cramm was the subject of a radio play, entitled Playing for His Life, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in June 2011. The play focused on the 1937 Interzone Davis Cup final and von Cramm's personal life.[18]

Grand Slam finals[edit]

Singles (2 titles, 5 runners-up)[edit]

Outcome Year Championship Surface Opponent Score
Winner 1934 French Championships Clay Australia Jack Crawford 6–4, 7–9, 3–6, 7–5, 6–3
Runner-up 1935 French Championships Clay United Kingdom Fred Perry 3–6, 6–3, 1–6, 3–6
Runner-up 1935 Wimbledon Grass United Kingdom Fred Perry 2–6, 4–6, 4–6
Winner 1936 French Championship (2) Clay United Kingdom Fred Perry 6–0, 2–6, 6–2, 2–6, 6–0
Runner-up 1936 Wimbledon Grass United Kingdom Fred Perry 1–6, 1–6, 0–6
Runner-up 1937 Wimbledon Grass United States Don Budge 3–6, 4–6, 2–6
Runner-up 1937 U.S. Championships Grass United States Don Budge 1–6, 9–7, 1–6, 6–3, 1–6

Doubles (2 titles, 1 runner-up)[edit]

Outcome Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Winner 1937 French Championships Clay Germany Henner Henkel South Africa Vernon Kirby
South Africa Norman Farquharson
6–4, 7–5, 3–6, 6–1
Winner 1937 U.S. Championships Grass Germany Henner Henkel United States Don Budge
United States Gene Mako
6–4, 7–5, 6–4
Runner-up 1938 Australian Open Grass Germany Henner Henkel Australia John Bromwich
Australia Adrian Quist
5–7, 4–6, 0–6

Mixed doubles (1 title)[edit]

Outcome Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Winner 1933 Wimbledon Championships Grass Germany Hilde Krahwinkel United Kingdom Mary Heeley
South Africa Norman Farquharson
7–5, 8–6


A Regarding personal names: Freiherr was a title before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Baron. Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a legal class, titles preceded the full name when given (Graf Helmuth James von Moltke). Since 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), can be used, but are regarded as a dependent part of the surname, and thus come after any given names (Helmuth James Graf von Moltke). Titles and all dependent parts of surnames are ignored in alphabetical sorting. The feminine forms are Freifrau and Freiin.


  1. ^ a b "Budge Seeded First in All-England", Daytona Beach Morning Journal, 17 June 1937.
  2. ^ Fimrite, Ron. "Baron of The Court," Sports Illustrated, July 5, 1993.
  3. ^ J. Brooks Fenno, Jr. (20 October 1934). "Ten at the Top in Tennis". The Literary Digest (New York City, United States: Funk & Wagnalls): 36. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  4. ^ "Wallis Myers' Rankings", The Age, 24 September 1936.
  5. ^ a b c Gottfried Von Cramm, International Tennis Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
  6. ^ "Abschluss der Deutschen Tennis-Meisterschaften". Hamburger Nachrichten (in German). 15 August 1932 – via European Library. 
  7. ^ Paul Fein, Tennis Confidential: Today's Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies, Brassey's, 2003 p.144.
  8. ^ "Don Budge Describes his 1937 Davis Cup Semi-final Match Against Baron Gottfried von Cramm"
  9. ^ Fisher, Marshall Jon (2009). A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0307393951. 
  10. ^ a b c d Kernchen, Roland. "Gottfried von Cramm - Weltspitzensportler und Freund Wispensteins" [Gottfried von Cramm - World-class Athlete and Friend of the Wispenstein Community]. Homepage of the Wispenstein Community (in German). Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  11. ^ "People, May 23, 1938". 23 May 1938. 
  12. ^ "Cramm Sentenced to a Year in Prison; He Was Blackmail Victim". The New York Times. 15 May 1938. p. 6. 
  13. ^ a b Fisher, Marshall Jon (2009). A Terrible Splendor. New York: Crown. 
  14. ^ Fimrite, Ron (5 July 1993). "Baron of the Court". Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on 22 August 2009. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  15. ^ Fraunhofer SCAI Marketing und Kommunikation. "Fraunhofer IZB: Seite nicht gefunden". 
  16. ^ "Sport: Champions at Forest Hills". 13 September 1937. 
  17. ^ Writing in 1979, Kramer considered the best ever to have been either Don Budge (for consistent play) or Ellsworth Vines (at the height of his game). The next four best were, chronologically, Bill Tilden, Fred Perry, Bobby Riggs and Pancho Gonzales. After these six came the "second echelon" of Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Gottfried von Cramm, Ted Schroeder, Jack Crawford, Pancho Segura, Frank Sedgman, Tony Trabert, John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Björn Borg and Jimmy Connors. He felt unable to rank Henri Cochet and René Lacoste accurately but felt they were among the very best.
  18. ^ Playing for his life, Afternoon drama, BBC Radio 4, 2011-06-24. Retrieved 2014-02-04.

Further reading[edit]

  • Fisher, Marshall Jon (2009). A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played. ISBN 978-0-307-39394-4

External links[edit]

Preceded by
German Sportsman of the Year
Succeeded by
Germany Georg Meier