A few weeks after Don Budge's triumph over Gottfried von Cramm in 1937 Wimbledon final, great rivals returned to the Centre Court, with the USA taking on Germany in the Inter-Zonal Davis Cup final, battling for the place in the final against Great Britain seven days later.
As we could imagine, the clash between the USA and Germany just before the dawn of the World War II was much more than a usual sport event and it went far beyond that to embrace politics and ideology just before the great disaster that would hit the world two years later.
It was the clash between Don Budge, Bryan Grant and Gene Mako on one side and Gottfried von Cramm and Henner Henkel on the other, continuing where they left at Wimbledon just 15 days earlier. Things were quite simple on the court, with Budge and von Cramm as the best singles players of the tie that had to draw the winner from the doubles encounter and that possible Budge vs.
von Cramm clash on the final day. On July 17, von Cramm took down Bryan Grant 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to deliver the opening point for Germany, serving well and controlling the pace from the field with strong volleys and smashes. The German claimed the opening set with two breaks and they both served well in the first six games of the second to stand equal at 3-3.
Von Cramm drew first blood with a break in game seven before Grant got it back immediately, only to lose serve again at 4-4 and allow Gottfried to grab the set on own serve for a 6-4. The American hit two double faults in game three of the third set to lose serve and there was no way back for him from there, with von Cramm marching towards the finish line to secure the opening point for Germany.
As was expected, Henner Henkel couldn't do much against the great Californian Don Budge who scored a 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 win to level the score and switch the attention to the doubles rubber. The match lasted less than an hour and it was a superb performance for Budge, both from his serve and backhand.
Don broke in the fourth game and sealed the opener with another break in game eight, rattling off five straight games in set number two to move closer to the finish line. Henkel showed more in the third set, breaking back in game six to level the score at 3-3 before Budge shifted into a higher gear to claim the remaining three games and level the overall score at 1-1.
After a rest day on July 18, Don Budge and Gene Mako faced Gottfried von Cramm and Henner Henkel in what was the rematch of the Wimbledon semi-final that the Americans won 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 after an amazing comeback.
The Davis Cup encounter didn't disappoint as well, with the Americans earning a 4-6, 7-5, 8-6, 6-4 win to gain the crucial 2-1 lead before the remaining singles encounters. Mako and Henner gave their best to match the pace of their more famous partners and they stood as the best players on the court, helping Budge and von Cramm respectively to keep two squads close to each other all the time.
Mako and Budge opened a 4-2 lead with a break in game five before the Germans bounced back to gain the next four games and steal the opener 6-4. Von Cramm and Henkel played well in set number two as well, leading 5-3 thanks to a break in game seven, only to lose the next four games and hand the set to their opponents who made a great escape and avoided a huge deficit.
Leading 6-5 in set number three, the Germans lost three straight games to drop the set and the momentum that was on the other side of the court now. Von Cramm and Henkel made one final push in set number four, taking 17 of the first 24 points for a 4-1 advantage, only to lose ground and allow Budge and Mako to clinch the last five games and bring the match home without having to play a deciding set.
The Americans were now in a solid position before the remaining two singles rubbers but they were still far away from the finish line. In the fourth rubber, Henner Henkel defeated Bryan Grant 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to grasp the second point for Germany and switch all the attention to the deciding fifth rubber between the best players of two teams.
The German was the dominant figure on the court in the opening half an hour, creating a 5-1 gap before Grant went on to win the next four games and level the score at 5-5. After this downfall, Henkel was back at his best again, taking eight of the last ten points to claim the set 7-5 and gain a boost ahead of the remaining sets.
Grant was the better player in set number two, racing into a 5-0 advantage and closing the set in game eight to level the score and stay in contention before dropping the third 6-3. He was 4-3 ahead in the fourth set before Henkel took the last three games to seal the deal and win the point for his country that kept Germany alive.
In the most anticipated match of the tie, Don Budge prevailed against Gottfried von Cramm 6-8, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 8-6 to push the USA over the top, performing one of his biggest comebacks against the famous rival to send his country into the Davis Cup final.
Nothing could have separated them in the first 12 games of the opening set and it was von Cramm who took eight of the next ten points to steal the opener 8-6. It was a very close battle in the second set as well, with 11 good holds on both sides before Gottfried broke Don at 6-5 to take a huge two sets to love lead, looking good to complete the victory for Germany.
With no room for errors, Budge won the third set 6-4 and dominated on the court in the fourth, playing better and better to take the set 6-2 and set up a decider where he was the favorite now. Von Cramm recovered his game to forge a 4-1 lead in the fifth set but Budge refused to surrender, leveling the score and staying in touch with the German before prevailing in the closing stages to complete the comeback and the triumph.
In the final, the USA delivered an expected 4-1 triumph over Great Britain to claim the first title since 1926 and stop the domination of the European nations France and Great Britain.