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Legends - Budge Patty: "I decided to live in Paris as a tourist"

By Guillaume Willecoq   on   Friday 15 April 2016
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Paris was his home – literally, as he owned an apartment on the banks of the Seine – and figuratively. Between 1947 and 1958, he won no fewer than 20 international tournaments here, a record that will likely stand forever! Among them was the French Open in 1950, making John Edward "Budge" Patty, born in 1924, the oldest surviving champion of the tournament. In 2001, the American looked back on his life in an interview with Gil de Kermadec. From the parades to celebrate the Liberation of Paris to the courts of Roland-Garros, not forgetting the charm of everyday life in the French capital, the serve-and-volley merchant whose elegant play made him a crowd favourite at the time explains just how much his life was linked to Paris – in perfect French, as well!

His memories of Paris

"In 1945, I was in Paris as a soldier in the 5th Army. I spent 22 months in all in Europe: 20 months of the Italian campaign between the end of 1943 and 1945, and then two months in France after that. I experienced the Liberation in Paris. I returned to the United States in January 1946… only to come straight back five months later! At 18, I wanted to be grown up, to study – I was actually going to head to university when I got my mobilisation orders. But after the war, you couldn’t hope to do that anymore. I wanted to get the most out of life, and playing tennis gave me a chance to do that. So I came back to Europe in June 1946, this time to become a tennis player. To begin with, you had to make do and mend. It was a case of ‘waste not, want not’, and at my first tournaments – including Roland-Garros – I still wore my old army shorts!"

"I fell in love with Paris straight away, and once the war was over, I decided to live there as a tourist: I went out in the evenings, smoked and drank… I enjoyed the charms of Paris. And afterwards I complained about my lack of stamina in fifth sets (he laughs)! But those were wonderful years. I even ended up buying an apartment on the banks of the Seine at Quai Louis-Blériot, in 1954. I had a wonderful view of the Statue of Liberty at the Grenelle bridge, the Eiffel Tower and even, at the corner of the terrace, the Sacré Cœur off in the distance."

"From the age of 13 and the first youth tournament that I won in Los Angeles, I said to my parents that I wanted to be a tennis player. In a certain sense, I was a better player as a youngster than as an adult. Up until the age of 15, I never lost a set in any of the different national competitions I played in the United States. I was disciplined and focused – unlike the first few years after the war. I had lost two years of my life because of the war, and like all the young people of my generation, I had too many things to catch up on to want to dedicate myself body and soul to playing tennis. Between the years I spent as a soldier and the ones where I wanted to make up for lost time, it took me a while to be able to focus on tennis again the way I had as a teenager."

The 1950 Roland-Garros final - Patty vs Drobny:

RG Legends: 1950 men's Final

His memories of Roland-Garros

"At the end of 1949 though, I decided to concentrate fully on my tennis. I stopped drinking, smoking and going out late at night… and every morning, I jogged for five kilometres alongside the bois de Boulogne. When Roland-Garros came around in 1950, I knew that I could play five sets, and five hours if necessary. You have to remember that at the time, there was more of a physical effort required – we didn’t sit down for a minute-and-a-half every two games! When you changed ends, if you had the misfortune to lean against the umpire’s chair to grab a mouthful of water, the umpire would reprimand you. So knowing that I was ready to play long matches, that changed everything. Before, if I won a tight set, I often lost the next one before getting my breath back, and I lost all the benefit of winning a tough set. But now I knew that I could give it my all. And I won it all. In the final at Roland-Garros, when Jaroslav Drobny came back from two sets down to level it, I never panicked. I knew that I would finish strong and I won 7-5 in the fifth."

"I remember another funny match, in the quarters against Irvin Dorfman, a little-known American but a good serve-and-volleyer, like me. He pushed me to a fifth set. I was leading 10-9 at the change of ends, and there, as we crossed over, I took my comb out of my pocket quite ostensibly to re-style my hair. He totally lost it: four errors later, he’d handed me the match! He said: ‘You got me. I was absolutely exhausted and you still had enough about you to think about your hair!’"

"When I won Roland-Garros, I didn’t get any prize money. And Wimbledon just afterwards, they offered me five pounds sterling – and even that was only valid for purchasing tennis equipment (he laughs)! But that’s how it was at the time. There was less at stake and that made the tennis more fun – both the sport and the players too! In 1953, I lost an epic match, against Drobny yet again at Wimbledon (12-10 in the fifth, having saved six match points). He was so exhausted that he ended up in hospital after the following match. And since we were rivals but friends, opponents who liked each other as people, I called him to say that while he was stuck in his hospital room all alone, I was on top form and going out every night (he laughs)!"

With the Australian Mervyn Rose, Roland-Garros, 1955.

His memories of tennis

"The game essentially changed as soon as composite racquets appeared (in the second part of the 80's). They were lighter and they changed everything in that you could hit the ball harder, particularly on the backhand. With wooden racquets, you could only really slice your backhand. Lew Hoad was the first to have enough strength to put topspin on his backhand. But Hoad was special. When I called it a day in 1960, he was still the only guy capable of hitting it. The composite racquets of the 1980s changed the game with the control they brought. They made it more of a power game, made passing shots easier and endangered the art of serve-and-volley."

"Right from the warm up, I knew whether I was in for an easy match or a tough one based on the quality of my opponent’s sliced backhand."

"I was never the nervous type, even before big finals. I felt the tension rising in the quarter of an hour before the match and that stayed with me for the first three or four first games, and then it went. Once I was into the match, it had gone."

"It took me a long while to come round to competing in the Davis Cup, because at the time, it was still played with the Challenge Round. The holders were Australia, so playing the Davis Cup meant going to Australia, either three days in an aeroplane or six weeks on a boat … and once you were there, you had to fulfil various obligations all around the country to meet all the requests that were made to us as challengers to the Australians. I didn’t like the sound of any of that, so it took a while before the Davis Cup really excited me… And there was also a lot of competition at the time in the United States, and I was better known in Europe, where I lived and where I was winning tournaments, than in my home country. In 1949 though, my fellow countrymen managed to win in Australia, and then I decided to do everything I could to make sure that I was selected to play at home in 1950. And I won Roland-Garros and Wimbledon one after the other, but then I got injured a few weeks before the Davis Cup final, at a tournament à Newport. It had been raining, the grass was wet and I slipped when going for a smash. I fell and sprained the ligaments in my foot. The hardest part was probably the fact that no-one helped me. At the time, you didn’t have all the umpires, line judges and ball kids around the court… and then as I said, I wasn’t the most popular guy with the other Americans … So I had to go and find my own ice to put on my foot. And then I had to withdraw from the final. And I never played the Davis Cup. And that’s that. It’s ancient history now."

"If I could only be allowed to remember one match from my entire life, it would be when I became US champion in the 18-year-old category. I was the tournament’s No.4 seed. In the quarters, I played a guy called Garner Larned. He was bigger than me, a serve-and-volleyer, a classy guy, good-looking, immaculate white pants, the kind that girls would love and guys would hate… He was leading 6-0, 3-0, he was totally dominating. At 40-30 on my service, I finally had a game point. And then I don’t know why, but I suddenly decided to serve under-arm (he mimics the gesture with a glint in his eye). If you get it wrong, serving under-arm is ridiculous. But done well, just over the net and aiming for the outside line, it’s really annoying for the opponent. This kids’ shot, I got it just right, it landed right in the corner, on the line. Perfect. My opponent lurched forward to try to return the ball with his backhand, but he was late on it, and what is more, he stumbled and ended up flat on the floor. When he got up, his lovely white pants were covered in clay, and he was absolutely furious! So much so that he totally lost his focus. He couldn’t hit a shot after that, and I won in three sets. I’ll never forget that match, purely for that particular episode. After the match, he threw his racquet in the nearby lake. And he never ended up making it as a pro, I don’t think (he laughs)."

Roland-Garros 1950 campaign (7th seed)

Round of 128 : d. John Barrett 6/2 6/0 6/1
Round of 64 : d. Vladimir Landau 7/5 7/5 6/1
Round of 32 : d. Dragutin Mitic 11/9 6/4 6/2
Round of 16 : d. Gianni Cucelli 6/1 6/4 6/3
Quarter-finals: d. Irvin Dorfman 0/6 6/1 3/6 6/1 11/9
Semi-finals : d. William Talbert (#3) 2/6 6/4 4/6 6/4 13/11
Final : d. Jaroslav Drobny (#1) 6/1 6/2 3/6 5/7 7/5

Budge Patty at Roland-Garros 2016 (top left of the picture. You can see also Adriano Panatta, Manolo Santana and Nicola Pietrangeli, all Roland-Garros winners).

Record at Roland-Garros:

Singles: winner in 1950; finalist in 1949 ; semi-finalist in 1948 and 1954
Doubles: semi-finalist in 1946, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954 and 1955
Mixed: winner in 1946 


Winner: Wimbledon, 1950
Winner: Wimbledon men’s doubles, 1947
Winner: Rome, 1954
Winner: Hamburg, 1953 and 1954
Winner: French Indoor Champions in 1955 and 1956

Also read: Top 10: Foreign favourites at Roland-Garros

Next Article: Roland-Garros 2016 wheelchair entry list
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