How Hollywood, Hitler, a gay Nazi poster boy, and US OPEN tennis champion, Andy Murray, star in one of sport’s greatest grail quests.
IN 1934, SHORTLY AFTER ADOLF HITLER’s rise to power, German tennis star Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt Freiherr von Cramm, or simply, Gottfried von Cramm, won the French Open. Von Cramm, for Hitler, was the model of the perfect Aryan athlete but Von Cramm wanted nothing of the Nazis or their use of him as a tool in their propaganda machine. He was after all, a gay man with occasional love affairs with Jews. In the 1935 Davis Cup final against the US, knowing his victory would prove a moral victory for the Nazis, Von Cramm threw the match calling an error on himself during match point. Two years later at the same tournament, Von Cramm received a phone call from the Fuhrer himself, shortly before stepping on to the court to play Don Budge. A pale Von Cramm held a commanding lead, then mysteriously lost 8-6. Was it another famous smiting of Hitler? It’s unclear. But a year later Von Cramm was imprisoned by the Nazis on moral charges (a gay love affair with a Jew). Don Budge commanded the signatures of tennis colleagues in a petition and sent it to Hitler. Von Cramm was released six months later but would continue to be a thorn in the side of the Nazis.
How Von Cramm fits into the Andy Murray narrative is quite simple. In 1936 German tennis star Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt Freiherr von Cramm, or simply, Gottfried von Cramm, lost in the finals of Wimbledon to Fred Perry. It was the last time a British man would win the sport’s most coveted title, and the last time a Brit would win a Grand Slam tournament.
Fred Perry was no Gottfried Von Cramm. Von Cramm was known for his kindness. Perry was a playboy. A man from a working class background who took up tennis at a late age, he was considered an upstart by the Wimbledon elite but a favourite among the public for probably those same reasons. He was called an egotist, an opportunist, and a match thrower who could have cared less for the game. He later quit England for the US and dated mega-stars like Marlene Dietrich and married a string of models and actresses. The institution that snubbed him did not recongize him for his achievements until ten years before his death and fifty years after his Wimbledon title. There is now a statue of him on the Wimbledon tennis grounds. Even his ashes are buried there.
Perry’s mark in pop culture continues to be felt. He designed the first sweatband. The Fred Perry tennis shirt which was launched in 1952 continues to be a garment of choice by generations of urban youngsters. In another fashion footnote, Bunny Austin, the last British man to make the finals of Wimbledon, was the first to wear shorts on the court.
The only problem for Murray in repeating Perry’s victory was that Novak Djokovic was no Gottfried Von Cramm. In 1936 Perry disposed of Von Cramm in 45 minutes. No one beats the Joker in 45 minutes because he is just too good. He beats the bigs and he beats them often. With the exception of a straight set victory over the liquid robot, Roger Federer, at the Olympics, Murray has had less luck. In Murray’s corner, however, is tennis’ first prototype of the ice cold liquid metal terminator brand – Ivan Lendl. Lendl dominated men’s tennis in the eighties, changing the game forever with his trademark brand of power tennis. Lendl’s nerves were made of steel. He was an ice cold liquid metal tennis terminator programmed to win and win often; he’s the only male tennis player with a 90% win rate in five different years. Since becoming Murray’s coach in 2011, Murray’s nerves are beginning to show the same ore. Lendl never won Wimbledon but he won the shit out of the US Open.
With Murray’s (get ready for the cliche) epic five set historic victory over Djokovic, one thing is certain: he is probably going to bang every single person in Great Britain. Mothers, fathers, sisters and deacons. Cousins, brothers, royalty, the homeless. Because, last night, on September 11th (in Scotland), there wasn’t a person alive in the crumbling center of the old world empire who was not screaming ‘Yes! Andy, yes!’ at the sight of his balls as he pounded them against Djokovic. This is, after all, one of sport’s second greatest grail quests (after a Brit winning Wimbledon) and the stuff of British legends. Murray is now a one man World Cup for an island whose victory in a Grand Slam preceded its victory in the Second World War. Murray’s win will resonate even with the dead. Fred Perry, beneath the flowerbed of his statue will be said to have been heard whispering Yes Andy, yes! on that fateful night. As will Bunny Austin, in his dead white shorts. And they’ll even say they heard from the mouth of the ghost of Nazi-foil Gottfried Von Trapp, the whispers of Ja Andy, Ja!