Portal:Tennis/Selected biography/21

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Gottfried von Cramm (left) and C. S. Rogers of Ireland in 1932

In 1932, Gottfried von Cramm earned a berth as a Davis Cup competitor for his country and immediately won the first of four straight German national championships. 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 did so just after Adolf Hitler had come to power. The handsome, blond Gottfried von Cramm fit 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.

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. National Championships. 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 on side, the Nazi regime punished his insubordination by not allowing him to compete in the 1937 French championship even though he was the defending champion.

Despite his Grand Slam play, Gottfried von Cramm is most remembered for his 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. In a later interview, Budge said that von Cramm had received a phone call from Hitler minutes before the match started and came out pale and serious and had played each point as though his life depended on winning.