A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played

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Three Rivers Press, 2010 - Sports & Recreation - 321 pages
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Before Federer versus Nadal, before Borg versus McEnroe, the greatest tennis match ever played pitted the dominant Don Budge against the seductively handsome Baron Gottfried von Cramm. This deciding 1937 Davis Cup match, played on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, was a battle of titans: the world's number one tennis player against the number two; America against Germany; democracy against fascism. For five superhuman sets, the duo’s brilliant shotmaking kept the Centre Court crowd–and the world–spellbound.

But the match’s significance extended well beyond the immaculate grass courts of Wimbledon. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the brink of World War II, one man played for the pride of his country while the other played for his life. Budge, the humble hard-working American who would soon become the first man to win all four Grand Slam titles in the same year, vied to keep the Davis Cup out of the hands of the Nazi regime. On the other side of the net, the immensely popular and elegant von Cramm fought Budge point for point knowing that a loss might precipitate his descent into the living hell being constructed behind barbed wire back home.

Born into an aristocratic family, von Cramm was admired for his devastating good looks as well as his unparalleled sportsmanship. But he harbored a dark secret, one that put him under increasing Gestapo surveillance. And his situation was made even more perilous by his refusal to join the Nazi Party or defend Hitler. Desperately relying on his athletic achievements and the global spotlight to keep him out of the Gestapo’s clutches, his strategy was to keep traveling and keep winning. A Davis Cup victory would make him the toast of Germany. A loss might be catastrophic.

Watching the mesmerizingly intense match from the stands was von Cramm’s mentor and all-time tennis superstar Bill Tilden–a consummate showman whose double life would run in ironic counterpoint to that of his German pupil.

Set at a time when sports and politics were inextricably linked, A Terrible Splendor gives readers a courtside seat on that fateful day, moving gracefully between the tennis match for the ages and the dramatic events leading Germany, Britain, and America into global war. A book like no other in its weaving of social significance and athletic spectacle, this soul-stirring account is ultimately a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - asktheages - LibraryThing

Extremely compelling account of the famous 1937 Davis Cup match between Don Budge and Baron Gottfried von Cramm. The match itself is still widely hailed as one of the best ever played, and Fisher does ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - patrickgarson - LibraryThing

Marshall Jon Fisher has written a thrilling book about a tennis match that happened over seventy years ago. But it's not really about a tennis match. Fisher turns the court into a stage for the drama ... Read full review

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About the author (2010)

MARSHALL JON FISHER’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, and other magazines. His essay "Memoria ex Machina" was featured in Best American Essays 2003. He has written several books with his father, David E. Fisher, including Tube: The Invention of Television. Marshall lives in the Berkshires with his wife


From the Hardcover edition.

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