When I was growing up in Berlin during the 1920s, tennis was the pastime of the elite and the special favorite of the diplomatic corps and its attendant international set, epitomized by young Baron Gottfried von Cramm, one of Germany's leading players. Tennis became a passion with me but, as was made quite emphatically clear to me one afternoon in the fall of 1930, competence on the courts without a firm grasp of higher protocol could mean trouble.
The revelation occurred on the occasion of my first visit to the indoor courts of the magnificent Berliner Tennishalle, which had opened that fall.
Because my friend Hans Zehden and I had developed good games and had placed high in several local tournaments, club officials assigned us to one of the new courts for an afternoon hour of practice a week. As "for-tennis-only" members of a local club, we were highly flattered by the honor.
Hans and I were on time to the minute for our first session. On a neighboring court we were surprised and a little awed to see the tall, immaculate figure of Cramm playing an oddly desultory game against an equally tall but rather rumpled opponent, who obviously was no match for him. We often had watched Cramm in big matches and admired the precision and power of his strokes, which some years later carried him into Wimbledon's finals. Although Hans had once been commandeered as Cramm's partner in a doubles match at the club which had adopted us, we were startled when he noticed us to the extent of waving his racket at us as we passed behind his court.
"What do you know," Hans commented with feigned nonchalance. "We're really in the swim. I bet that's an ambassador he's got there, too."
We blasted away happily on hardwood floors for several minutes and were set to play when a ball boy appeared at our net post.
"The Herr Baron von Cramm inquires," he announced respectfully, "whether you would care to play in a doubles match."
Hans was ecstatic.
"Ja, nat�rlich," he said. "Tell him we'll be right over. Chance of a lifetime to show him how good we are," he went on when the boy had gone off. "Why, Mensch, we can even beat them." I scoffed, "Are you mad?"
Hans's voice sank to a conspiratorial murmur. "We're both better than the fellow with him. We shut Cramm out as much as possible, fire away at the other guy and we win. That will really get us noticed around here. They might even invite us to the next club ball."