Baseball Leads To Tennis
Sports were a family affair in the Budge home. Budge's father was a professional soccer player in Scotland. Suffering from respiratory problems he settled in California hoping the warmer climate would help his condition. John Donald Budge was born in California on June 13, 1915 and took to sports at a young age. While his older brother, Lloyd, excelled at tennis, Don chose baseball as his primary pursuit. Ironically, some attribute his early experience with baseball as key to his tennis success. "From the very first, Don's money-stroke was his backhand which grew directly out of his almost-perfect, left-handed batting swings," wrote E. Digby Baltzell in his book Sporting Gentlemen.
After honing his skills on the hard public courts of California, Budge entered the state's Fifteen-and-Under Championships just before his fifteenth birthday. At the tournament, he met Perry T. Jones, a prominent coach. Beating the top contender in the first round, Budge looked to Jones awaiting a compliment. What he received instead left a mark on him for his entire career. "With a distinct frown, he looked me up and down," Budge told Baltzell years later. "These are the dirtiest tennis shoes I ever saw in my life. Don't you ever-don't you ever-show up again on any court anywhere wearing shoes like that. I know he made an impression on me, for I've never gone on court since that day with scruffy shoes." Dirty footwear aside, Budge went on to win the tournament.
The early victory encouraged him to put aside baseball and dream of tennis success. At the age of 18 he won the National Junior Championships by beating Gene Mako, the top contender, in the fifth set, rallying from a two set deficit. Budge and Mako became life long friends and went on to make a formidable doubles team, winning the doubles at Wimbledon in 1937 and both the U.S. and Wimbledon doubles in 1938.
Budge enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley but quickly withdrew during his first year to play the Emerson Grass Court Circuit as part of an auxiliary Davis Cup Team. After losing in the fourth round at Forest Hills he was ranked in the top ten U.S. players.