Budge Patty, Elegant Tennis Champion of the 1950s, Dies at 97


Budge Patty, one of only three Americans to win the French and Wimbledon men’s singles tennis championships in the same year and a glamorous figure on the international tennis scene of the 1950s, died on Monday in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was 97.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame announced his death, in a hospital, on Friday. He had lived in Europe for more than 70 years and at his death resided in Lausanne.

Patty honed his skills as a teenager at the Los Angeles Tennis Club and won the United States junior championship in 1941 and ’42. But he settled in Paris after World War II and played mostly on the Continent and in Britain.

He was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1950, when he defeated Jaroslav Drobny, the Czech defector, in five sets to win the French championships, then needed only four sets to defeat Frank Sedgman of Australia in the Wimbledon final. Don Budge, in 1938, and Tony Trabert, in 1955, are the only other American men to have won the singles titles at both of those Grand Slam tournaments in one year. (Trabert died in February at 90.)

Known for an outstanding all-around game but especially for a strong forehand volley, Patty was usually in the top 10 in the world rankings between 1947 and 1957 and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., in 1977.

But he played sporadically in the United States Nationals at Forest Hills, Queens, never advancing beyond the quarterfinals in singles, and he did not compete in the Australian championships.

Patty was almost invariably described as handsome, elegant and a fashionable dresser. In late July 1950, anticipating Patty’s appearance at Forest Hills in a quest for a third major triumph that year, Allison Danzig, the longtime tennis writer of The New York Times, noted how Gussie Moran had created a sensation wearing a short skirt and lace-trimmed underwear at Wimbledon. “Now men’s tennis has its glamour boy,” she wrote.

“Budge Patty has had them swooning on the French Riviera these past few years,” Danzig continued, adding, “It wasn’t fair, that anyone so tall and handsome, with that je ne sais quoi which defies translation but compels capitulation, should spend all of his time on the Continent when he had a good home in California.”

But any fans at Forest Hills inclined to swoon over Patty were disappointed. He hurt his ankle playing doubles at Newport in mid-August and was unable to compete in the United States Nationals later that summer.

John Edward Patty was born on Feb. 11, 1924, in Fort Smith, Ark. His family moved to the Los Angeles area when he was young.

According to the Hall of Fame, he got his nickname when a brother, considering him lazy, called him Budge to make the point that he often failed to do just that.

After winning two junior championships, Patty entered the Army Air Forces during World War II. He captured the singles championship at a tournament held for Allied servicemen on the French Riviera in September 1945. Three years later, he made Paris his home.

He had a French-born grandmother and an Austrian grandfather, and once remarked how “even as a child I knew I’d like Europe.”

Patty teamed with Pauline Betz to win the 1946 mixed doubles in the French championships and then lost to Frank Parker in the 1949 French singles final before capturing it the following year.

He played in every French and Wimbledon tournament from 1946 to 1960. “Budge Patty’s perfect manners and exquisite tennis style made him a Wimbledon idol for 15 years,” E. Digby Baltzell wrote in his book “Sporting Gentlemen” (1995).

His most memorable match was a marathon duel with Drobny in the third round of the 1953 Wimbledon championships.

Lasting nearly four and a half hours over five sets and 93 games, it ended past 9 p.m. in the fading light when Patty succumbed after squandering six match points.

“I could hardly see a thing, and I was so tired I barely knew where I was,” he told the British newspaper The Telegraph in 2000, recalling the final moments.

At age 33, Patty teamed with 43-year-old Gardnar Mulloy to win the 1957 Wimbledon men’s doubles championship, stunning the Australians Lew Hoad and Neale Fraser, who were in their early 20s.

Remaining an amateur for his entire career, Patty won 46 singles championships.

He married Maria Marcina Sfezzo, the daughter of a Brazilian engineering magnate, in 1961. She survives him along with two daughters, Christine and Elaine Patty.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1958, Patty, at the time playing four or five months a year while working for a Paris travel agency and enjoying life in Europe, said he did not expect to compete into his 40s.

World-class players who did so had never “smoked, drank or gone to bed later than 10 o’clock,” he said. “Me, I’ve preferred to enjoy life.”

But 50 years after his double triumph in Grand Slam tournaments, Patty bristled at how he had been depicted in the sports pages.

“Tennis players then are like tennis players now,” he told The Telegraph in 2000. “If they see someone wearing a tie, they think he’s strange. It was like, ‘Wow, Budge is wearing a tailored jacket — he must be a secret agent.’ It was ridiculous. I never took any notice.”

Source : NYtimes