Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Gottfried von Cramm
Born Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt von Cramm in Nettlingen , Lower Saxony, Germany, his family was part of the ancient German nobility and he inherited the title of Baron. However, he had the misfortune, perhaps, of being born at the wrong time. One of the best of the Germans to play the game of tennis, von Cramm had the misfortune of having to compete against Fred Perry and Don Budge, two of the very great players to have ever played the game. And, as a not openly gay man, he had to play under great stress at a time when gay men under Nazi Germany were being publicly persecuted and exterminated.
In 1932, Von Cramm earned a birth 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 the Wimbledon Championships. 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, he had the bad luck of doing so just after Adolf Hitler had come to power. The tall, handsome and blonde 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.
For three straight years he was the men's singles runner-up at the Wimbledon Championships, losing memorable matches in the finals to 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 England's Fred 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 preeminent matches in all of tennis history. In an interview after the match, Budge told a reporter 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. And von Cramm did pay, when in 1938 things reached the boiling point with the Nazi government. While von Cramm was always respectful, he continued to refuse to go along with the propaganda of a regime he did not condone. Despite his enormous popularity with the public, in March of 1938, von Cramm was arrested by the German government and ordered to stand trial on trumped-up charges. Found guilty, he was sentenced to a year in prison. His international tennis friends were outraged and Don Budge collected the signatures of high-profile athletes and sent a protest letter to Hitler. Finally freed, in May of 1939 von Cramm returned to competitive tennis but the extremely tense political climate caused problems when he went to play in England. After an initial ban, 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. Nonetheless, the officials at Wimbledon refused to let him play in the Championships, using the excuse that he was a convicted criminal and therefore unfit.
With the outbreak of World War II, von Cramm had to serve in the German army. While war robbed von Cramm of some of his best years for tennis, nevertheless he still won another German national championship in 1948 and was already forty 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 at Wispenstein in Lower Saxony. Von Cramm was part of the elite of European society and became friends with the American Woolworth heiress, Barbara Hutton. In November of 1955, after the failure of her fifth marriage, a completely messed up Hutton sought safety and friendship with the homosexual von Cramm. The two married, but the situation could only lead to disaster and they soon divorced.
Baron Gottfried von Cramm was killed in an automobile accident near Cairo, Egypt in 1976. The following year, he was posthumously inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In his honor, the Gottfried-von-Cramm-Weg in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, site of the Rot-Weiss tennis club, was given his name.
Grand Slam Record:
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