Gottfried von Cramm

Gottfried von Cramm

Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt Freiherr von Cramm (July 7, 1909November 8, 1976) was a German amateur tennis champion and three time Wimbledon finalist.

In his 1979 autobiography Jack Kramer, the long-time tennis promoter and great player himself, included Gottfried von Cramm in his list of the 21 greatest players of all time. [Writing in 1979, Kramer considered the best ever to have been either Don Budge (for consistent play) or Ellsworth Vines (at the height of his game). The next four best were, chronologically, Bill Tilden, Fred Perry, Bobby Riggs, and Pancho Gonzales. After these six came the "second echelon" of Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Gottfried von Cramm, Ted Schroeder, Jack Crawford, Pancho Segura, Frank Sedgman, Tony Trabert, John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Björn Borg, and Jimmy Connors. He felt unable to rank Henri Cochet and René Lacoste accurately but felt they were among the very best.]


The third of the seven sons of Burchard, Baron ("Freiherr") von Cramm, and his wife, the former Jutta von Steinberg, he was born at the family estate near Nettlingen, Lower Saxony, Germany. The family title, which was bestowed upon his paternal grandfather in 1891, was inherited in 1936 by von Cramm's eldest brother, Aschwin.

Athletic career

In 1932, von Cramm earned a berth as a Davis Cup competitor for his country and immediately won the first of four straight German national championships. During this time he also teamed up with Hilde Krahwinkel to win the 1933 Mixed Doubles title at Wimbledon. Noted for his gentlemanly conduct and fair play, he gained the admiration and respect of his fellow tennis players. He earned his first individual Grand Slam title in 1934, winning the French Open. His victory made him a national hero in his native Germany, however, he had the bad luck of doing so just after Adolf Hitler had come to power. The tall, handsome, and blond Gottfried von Cramm fit perfectly the Aryan race image of a Nazi ideology that put pressure on all German athletes to be superior. However, von Cramm steadfastly refused to be a tool for Nazi propaganda.

For three straight years he was the men's singles runner-up at the Wimbledon Championships, losing memorable matches in the finals to England's Fred Perry in 1935 and again in 1936. The following year he lost in the finals to American Don Budge both at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open. In 1935, he was beaten in the French Open finals by Perry but turned the tables the following year and defeated Perry for his second French championship. In an attempt to get von Cramm on side, the Nazi regime punished his insubordination by not allowing him to compete in the 1937 French championship even though he was the defending champion.

Despite his Grand Slam play, Gottfried von Cramm is most remembered for his match against Don Budge during the 1937 Davis Cup. He was ahead 4–1 in the final set, when Budge launched a comeback, eventually winning 8–6 in a match considered by many as the greatest battle in the annals of Davis Cup play and one of the preeminent matches in all of tennis history. In an interview after the match, Budge told a reporter that von Cramm had received a phone call from Hitler minutes before the match started and came out pale and serious and had played each point as though his life depended on winning.

Imprisonment on morals charges

Despite his enormous popularity with the public, on 5 March 1938, von Cramm was arrested by the German government and ordered to stand trial for the crime of homosexuality, according to a lengthy article about von Cramm's career in the 5 July 1993 issue of Sports Illustrated. [] After being hospitalized for a nervous collapse after his arrest, he was found guilty on 14 March of a homosexual relationship with Manasse Herbst, a young Galician Jewish actor and singer, who had appeared in the 1926 silent film "Der Sohn des Hannibal". Von Cramm admitted that the relationship, which lasted from 1931 until 1934, began shortly before he married his first wife. He was additionally charged with sending money to Herbst, who blackmailed the tennis star for $12,000 and moved to Palestine in 1936. According to a 15 May 1938 report about the trial in the New York Times, the judge stated that "Baron von Cramm had alleged that his wife, during their honeymoon, had become intimate with a French athlete. The court held that this experience had unsettled the young tennis star and had resulted in his seeking a perverse compensation for an unhappy married life."

Von Cramm was sentenced to a year in prison. [,9171,882967,00.html] He appealed the conviction on 19 May, but withdrew it on June 20, with no explanation for the action. During his imprisonment, he worked as a clerk at Lehrterstrasse jail in Berlin.

His international tennis friends were outraged, and Don Budge collected the signatures of high-profile athletes and sent a protest letter to Hitler. After being released in October 1938 on parole, in May 1939 von Cramm returned to competitive tennis but the extremely tense political climate caused problems when he went to play in England. Nevertheless, von Cramm was allowed to compete at the Queen's Club tournament in London where he won the event by beating American Bobby Riggs 6–0, 6–1. The officials at Wimbledon reportedly refused to let him play in the championships, using the excuse that he was a convicted criminal and therefore unfit; the New York Times, however, quoted Wimbledon sources as saying that von Cramm was welcome to participate, had he submitted an entry. The U.S. rejected his temporary-visa application that same year, citing his morals-charge conviction; he had intended to play at the U.S. Open in September.

A further humiliation was Germany's 1940 decision to recall von Cramm from an international tennis tournament in Rome before he had a chance to play. The New York Times reported that his abrupt departure "was attributed to the German authorities' desire to prevent the former champion from meeting Henner Henkel, Rolf Goepffert, and other German players ... Berlin decided it would be embarrassing if von Cramm beat his compatriots ...."

Wartime service and postwar career

With the outbreak of World War II, von Cramm served in the German army as a member of the Hermann Goering Division. He saw action on the Eastern Front and was awarded the Iron Cross. While war robbed von Cramm of some of his best years for tennis, he still won another German national championship in 1948 and was already forty years old when he won it for the last time in 1949. He played Davis Cup tennis until retiring after the 1953 season and still holds the record for most wins by any German team member.

Following his retirement from active competition, von Cramm served as an administrator for the German tennis federation and became successful in business as a cotton importer. In addition, he managed the farm property he had inherited from his father at Wispenstein in Lower Saxony.


Gottfried von Cramm married:

*Baroness Elisabeth "Lisa" von Dobeneck (1912-1975), a daughter of Robert, Baron von Dobeneck and his wife, the former Maria Hagen, and a granddaughter of the Jewish banker Louis Hagen; [] they married on 1 September 1930 and divorced in 1937. [,9171,770858-3,00.html] Lisa von Cramm later married the Germany ice-hockey star Gustav Jaenecke.

*Barbara Hutton, an American socialite and an heiress to the Woolworth five-and-dime fortune; they married in 1955 and divorced in 1959.


While on a business trip, Von Cramm and his driver were killed in an automobile accident near Cairo, Egypt in 1976 when the baron's car collided with a truck. In his honor, the Gottfried-von-Cramm-Weg in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, site of the Rot-Weiss Tennis Club, was given his name.

Von Cramm was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island in 1977.

In 1990, a biography of von Cramm was published: "Gottfried von Cramm - Der Tennisbaron", by Egon Steinkamp.

Grand Slam record

Australian Championships
*Doubles finalist: 1938

French Championships
*"'Singles champion: 1934, 1936
*Singles finalist 1935
*"'Doubles champion: 1937

*Singles finalist 1935-37
*"'Mixed Doubles champion: 1933

U.S. Championships
*Singles finalist 1937
*"'Doubles champion: 1937

Grand Slam singles finals

Wins (2)

Runner-ups (5)


External links

* [ International Tennis Hall of Fame profile]

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