Before Federer versus Nadal, before Borg versus McEnroe, the greatest tennis match ever played pitted the dominant Don Budge against the seductively handsome Baron Gottfried von Cramm. This deciding 1937 Davis Cup match, played on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, was a battle of titans: the world's number-one tennis player against the number two; America against Germany; democracy against fascism. For five superhuman sets, the duo's brilliant shotmaking kept the Centre Court crowd - and the world - spellbound.
But the match's significance extended well beyond the immaculate grass courts of Wimbledon. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the brink of World War II, one man played for the pride of his country while the other played for his life. Budge, the humble hard-working American who would soon become the first man to win all four Grand Slam titles in the same year, vied to keep the Davis Cup out of the hands of the Nazi regime. On the other side of the net, the immensely popular and elegant von Cramm fought Budge point for point knowing that a loss might precipitate his descent into the living hell being constructed behind barbed wire back home.
Born into an aristocratic family, von Cramm was admired for his devastating good looks as well as his unparalleled sportsmanship. But he harbored a dark secret, one that put him under increasing Gestapo surveillance. And his situation was made even more perilous by his refusal to join the Nazi Party or defend Hitler. Desperately relying on his athletic achievements and the global spotlight to keep him out of the Gestapo's clutches, his strategy was to keep traveling and keep winning. A Davis Cup victory would make him the toast of Germany. A loss might be catastrophic.
Watching the mesmerizingly intense match from the stands was von Cramm's mentor and all-time tennis superstar Bill Tilden - a consummate showman whose double life would run in ironic counterpoint to that of his German pupil.
Set at a time when sports and politics were inextricably linked, A Terrible Splendor gives listeners a courtside seat on that fateful day, moving gracefully between the tennis match for the ages and the dramatic events leading Germany, Britain, and America into global war. A book like no other in its weaving of social significance and athletic spectacle, this soul-stirring account is ultimately a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.
"Rich and rewarding… makes a strong claim to greatest-ever status for Budge vs. Cramm in the Davis Cup…Fisher brings a sharp eye for details. He vividly sketches the anything-goes atmosphere of Weimar Berlin [and] turns up details that tennis fans will savor." (The Wall Street Journal)
"Tennis has seen plenty of great matches… but none with the extra-athletic significance of the Budge-Cramm affair… as the match enters its final set, all the narrative pieces lock together and A Terrible Splendor becomes as engrossing as the contest it portrays... Cramm’s life is a movie development deal waiting to happen." (The Washington Post)
"Richly detailed… the story moves from one nail-biting set to the next against a backdrop of improbably high personal and political stakes.” (The Boston Globe)
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Not just a tennis book...