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Many tournaments later, another statement rankled enough to give me new impetus and bigger ambitions. I was 18, and had just won the national junior championship. This time it was the great Bill Tilden, the dean of tennis and a hero in my eyes, who stabbed my pride. Tilden said, "The future of American tennis rests with Frankie Parker, Gene Mako and, possibly, Don Budge." It was the "possibly" I couldn't accept, and I felt a fierce determination to "show him."
Sometimes the determination to "show" somebody can spur you to reach heights you never thought you were capable of attaining. But as time goes along, and you gain confidence, it becomes a matter of showing yourself. The goals get bigger, that's all.
During the early '30s, U.S. efforts to bring the Davis Cup back home had been consistently frustrated. In 1932 Ellsworth Vines, in my opinion the greatest player of all time when at the top of his game, had won at Wimbledon yet failed to lead the U.S. Davis Cup team to victory over the French. In '34 Sidney Wood and Frank Shields beat Australia but failed to win the cup from England. Wood and Shields had both been Wimbledon finalists three years before. In 1937 my turn came. I had won Wimbledon, and the question was whether I could help my country wrest the elusive Davis Cup from the British.
Playing against Germany in the Inter-zone Final, I found myself down two sets to love in the fifth and deciding match against Baron Gottfried von Cramm, the great German champion. The matches stood at 2 all. Unless I won this match, the U.S. would once again lose its chance. Because of the times, the match was full of international implications, similar to those in current U.S. Russian competitions in sports. Just before we went out to play, Adolf Hitler phoned Von Cramm to wish him the best of luck. Von Cramm and I went at it for five grueling sets, lasting three hours and 40 minutes. When it was over, Germany was beaten and only the British team stood between us and the cup.
That match took more out of me than I realized at the time. During the following two weeks, before we were to meet England, I awakened every night in a cold sweat, reliving the moment when I was behind in the fifth set 4-1. I was emotionally depleted. Although the goal of regaining the Davis Cup was now within reach, I found it difficult to recharge myself for the crucial contest. The coming competition against England seemed almost anticlimactic. As much as I wanted to win every match, I was tired mentally and found every excuse to feel sorry for myself when things didn't go my way. I didn't play as well as in previous Davis Cup matches, and I hated my own attitude. I couldn't seem to shake it off. But I finally won the battle over myself, and we won the battle over Britain. The Davis Cup came home with us—Frank Parker, Bitsy Grant, Gene Mako and Walter Pate, our captain.
That year, 1937, after returning the cup, I played Von Cramm at Forest Hills and beat him in five sets, to win the U.S. National Championship. Five thousand people were turned away from Forest Hills that day as a result of the excitement engendered by our return of the cup and the close match I'd had with the Baron in the Interzone round.
The next year, 1938, was the vital one. Without announcing my intentions, I decided to try for the Grand Slam. I outlined for myself a strenuous fitness campaign. Instead of taking enticing trips to the French and Italian Rivieras, South America and the Orient, I stayed home, worked to improve every stroke and to condition my body. I did knee bends and stomach exercises. Every day I climbed the steep Berkeley Hills. Eventually I got to the point where I could run up the Hills and then run down again. I recommend this stern regimen to all ambitious youngsters who want to get to the top in sports. The importance of training can't be overestimated as insurance against the unexpected—and that year the unexpected came to me in a big way. I developed a variety of seemingly unrelated ailments. In Australia one morning I picked up the phone, and had no voice. For three days I carried pencil and paper in order to communicate. Despite the discomfort of voicelessness, I won the championship against John Bromwich in straight sets.
In France I came down with an intestinal disorder just before the finals of the French championship. Somehow I struggled through to win. Later, at Wimbledon, beating Bunny Austin for the championship, I was again reduced to the pad-and-pencil routine.