Budge, in the
meantime, had turned pro and proved to have stupendous drawing power. His
popularity was never more eloquently demonstrated than in 1944 when, during his
wartime duty in the Air Force, he suddenly had a benefit match with Jack Kramer
thrust upon him. Budge was then stationed at Fort Lubbock, Texas and, lacking
any other partner, he practiced with his wife Deirdre for four days.
"Nobody else but Deirdre played at all down there," he explains.
"She was second-best player in Lubbock." The match, played at New
York's Madison Square Garden, raised the amazing sum of nearly $3 million.
LAST TIME ON THE
But his tennis
days, he realized, were also nearing their end. He had already supplanted Frank
Shields as Wood's sidekick in the laundry business. Intermittently, he
continued playing pro tennis; the two friends agreed that it would be silly for
him to become a shirt-washer while he could still make money' playing tennis.
Last year, Budge hit the road for the last time. Halfway through his exhibition
tour with Jack Kramer's troupe, however, he quit. "If I'd been hungrier and
younger," he remarked to a friend, "I could have won." He shrugged,
and smiled his shy smile. "But I wasn't."
Neither Wood nor
Budge has been hungry in quite some time, and it doesn't seem likely that they
will be in the foreseeable future. In their newest adventure, the Town Tennis
Club, they are immeasurably helped by the personable appearance and social
abilities of their wives. Mrs. Wood, who joined the Budge-Wood enterprises two
and a half years ago, is the former Suzy Mulligan, whose father was board
chairman of a syndicate controlling three New York hotels, two of which were
Budge-Wood customers when she and Wood met. His courtship was rendered somewhat
more difficult than usual by his friends' bantering remarks that all he really
wanted was the third Mulligan hotel, but Wood's persistence won out in the end.
The third hotel is still not on his list of clients.
The Budges and
the Woods can be seen almost any day or evening at the club, where Budge, in
addition, to his duties as manager and TV commentator, also functions as the
club pro. Though neither Budge nor Wood plays in competition any more, they
regularly play friendly games, and as anyone knows who has watched them, from
the courtside or on TV, theirs is still a red-hot brand of tennis.
For Wood and
Budge, who take their tennis seriously and hold the best interests of the game
close to their hearts, that in the last analysis is the most important thing.
One day recently, for instance, they had a date to play, and Budge arrived 20
minutes late, looking slightly rumpled and distraught. After apologizing for
his tardiness, he said:
something I ought to tell you, Sidney. It might interfere with my game
Wood gave him a
quizzical look, and Budge went on: "I just drove my car off the road. It
was not hurt, nor was the car seriously damaged. They played their game as
usual and, as usual, Budge won. Even today, he almost always wins.