September 24, 1938: Don Budge completes the first real Grand Slam

Tennis - The 23-year-old American had become the first player who won all four Grand Slam titles in a single season

by Jovica Ilic
September 24, 1938: Don Budge completes the first real Grand Slam

The California native Don Budge was only 22 when he became the ruler of the men's amateur tennis in 1937, winning six Grand Slam titles in a row from Wimbledon and completing the first "real" Grand Slam in 1938 when he lifted all four Major titles as the first player in history to do so! The term Grand Slam had come from bridge and it was New York Times reporter, John Kieran who forged the phrase in early September 1933 when Jack Crawford had a chance to grab all four Majors before Don Budge, leading two sets to one in the final of the US Open to Fred Perry before winning only one game in sets four and five to leave empty-handed.

Don Budge made no such mistake in 1938, losing one set in four biggest finals of the season to write tennis history, and he accomplished his task on September 24 with a 6-3 6-8 6-2 6-1 triumph over Gene Mako at the famous West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills in New York (Budge also won men's doubles and mixed doubles crowns). The tournament was plagued by rain and the draw had reached the semi-final stage when the weather halted the action for six days, continuing with the semi-final clash between Budge and Sidney Wood that the defending champion won 6-3 6-3 6-3 on the slow court for the place in the final.

In the Californian battle between Oakland and Los Angeles, Don Budge took down the unseeded Gene Mako in four sets to secure tennis glory, outplaying his rival with great serves and lethal backhands. Interestingly, the second set of the title match was the only that Budge lost in New York that year but only after leading 5-2, losing his focus for a little bit before returning to his usual level from set number three to leave his doubles partner far behind.

Gene did everything to break the rival's rhythm, mixing up his game with drop shots, lobs and drives but nothing seemed to work against the toughest possible rival he could get that day, unable to defend from the brilliant strokes of the best player in the world.

It was the best possible start for Budge who raced into a 5-1 lead with breaks of serve in games four and six before getting broke at love while serving for the set in the seventh game. mako reduced the deficit to 5-3 but Don completed the set with a good hold in game nine, moving 6-3 ahead and looking for more of the same in the rest of the match.

After trailing 2-1 in set number two, Don rattled off four consecutive games and the set was pretty much in his hands when he lost his range, winning four points in the following four games and allowing Mako to move 6-5 ahead in a complete turnaround.

Gene scored another break in game 14 to steal the set 8-6 but instead of keeping that pace he faded from the court in sets three and four where Budge showed his full power to race towards the title. He won the opening five games of the third set and the set was in his hands after a hold in game eight and there was nothing Mako could do to end his downfall.

Budge won the last four games of the fourth set to seal the deal and defend his title in the best possible way, writing the brightest pages of the pre-war tennis history and achieving something that only Rod Laver was capable of repeating on two occasions in 1962 and 1969.

Don Budge turned pro at the end of the season and he made his pro debut on January 3, 1939, against Ellsworth Vines at Madison Square Garden in New York in front of 16,725 spectators! The Californian defeated Vines 6-3 6-4 6-2 in an hour and two minutes to prove his quality once again, scoring 22 wins in 39 matches against Vines and ousting another legend Fred Perry 28-8 in another series of matches.

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