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Obituary: Budge Patty (1924-2021)

John Edward ‘Budge’ Patty, a 1977 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee who was ranked No 1 in the world in 1950, died on 3 October 2021 at the age of 97.

Tilden told me at the end, ‘Sonny, you play a pretty good game of tennis, but you will never be any better than you are right now unless you learn to play a little more aggressive type of game. Learn to volley and attack as much as possible. That’s the only way you’ll ever become a champion’. Budge Patty

Patty was a debonair American who won the 1950 Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles in a 15-year amateur career and lived in Europe for more than 70 years, most recently in Lausanne, Switzerland where he passed away in hospital.

He was a serve-volleyer on court, and a playboy off it when he settled in Paris after the Second World War, becoming a fluent French speaker.

In 1950, the year he decided to give up smoking, Patty claimed 3 straight 5-set victories at Roland Garros, culminating in a 6-1 6-2 2-6 5-7 7-5 final triumph over Jaroslav Drobny, a year after finishing as runner-up to fellow American Frank Parker.

Patty was a 4-time major champion, having won the singles titles at both Wimbledon and Roland-Garros, as well as the Wimbledon doubles title in 1957 and the mixed doubles title in Paris in 1946.

His subdued manner made it easy for him to play well under pressure, while his forehand volley was frequently acknowledged as one of the greatest in tennis history.

It was only one of the many excellent shots that took him to the top, most notably in 1950, when Patty became only the second American man to win the singles titles at both Roland-Garros and Wimbledon in the same year.

Patty paired with childhood practice partner and fellow future Hall of Famer Pauline Betz, to win the mixed doubles championship at Roland-Garros in 1946.

Eleven years later, at the age of 33, he joined forces with 43-year-old Gardnar Mulloy on a surprising run to the 1957 Wimbledon title, in the finals upsetting the first-seeded team of Lew Hoad & Neale Fraser.

“Budge Patty was one of the great American players of the 1940s and 50s,” ITHOF President Stan Smith said. “Winning over 70 tournament titles is remarkable, and to win Wimbledon and Roland Garros back-to-back is a massive feat.

“While he competed before my time, I’ve often heard about how beautiful and elegant his game was.

“He will be remembered as a standout among the tennis history’s greatest champions.”


7th July 1950: Budge Patty of the USA in action against Australia's Frank Sedgman on his way to winning the men's singles final at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships

© Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Born in Fort Smith, Arkansas on 11 February, 1924, the Patty family moved to Los Angeles in his early childhood.

His nickname came from his older brother, joking that young John Edward scarcely displayed much urgency and therefore would not ‘budge’.

Soon after Patty picked up tennis as a child, Betz suggested he take lessons at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, which was owned and operated by Fred Perry and Ellsworth Vines.

Working there with instructor Bill Weissbuch, an assistant to Eleanor Tennant and coach of 5-time major singles winner Alice Marble, Patty caught the attention of actors Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, who subsidised his trips to national junior championships, many of which he won, including the National Boys’ 18 singles in 1941 and ’42.

Weissbuch pushed the need to play aggressive tennis, and it was a 6-0 6-0 loss to Bill Tilden at the club that forced the then 5’ 4” Patty to ditch his baseline game.

Recounting the match in his 1951 autobiography, Tennis My Way, Patty wrote: “Tilden told me at the end, ‘Sonny, you play a pretty good game of tennis, but you will never be any better than you are right now unless you learn to play a little more aggressive type of game. Learn to volley and attack as much as possible. That’s the only way you’ll ever become a champion’.”

Patty won the under-15 US national title in 1939, the under-18 singles and doubles titles in 1941, and worked on his game the following year, when he retained the title, once he left high school.

He had planned to go to the University of Southern California in 1942, but a few days after enrolling he was called up to the US Army.

After 6 months, he was permitted to leave the camp each day in Salt Lake City to train for 3 straight weeks in order to win the Utah state championships title.

Afterwards, Patty spent 2 years in Italy with the 12th Air Force Public Relations department, and was discharged in January 1946.

Following his 4 years of military service during World War II, Patty resumed his tennis career and between 1947 and ’57, he was ranked 7 times in the world’s top ten and won 76 singles titles.

He started to base himself in Paris in 1946, distancing himself from his roots and, in the process, he became quite the sophisticate, making the city his permanent home in 1948.

A 1953 article in World Tennis magazine written by Gloria Butler described an Egyptian artist drawing Patty: “One half of the tall young man was dressed in tennis garb with a racket in one hand; the other half was impeccable in full evening dress, with a cigarette in his fingers.”

Often criticised for not playing enough on American soil, Patty later worked as a travel agent from his Paris residence and had bit parts in movies, before moving into real estate.

He married the daughter of a Brazilian engineering magnate, Marcina Maria Sfezzo, his wife of 60 years and they lived in Lausanne, Switzerland.

He made annual visits to the All England Lanw Tennis Club at Wimbledon, and continued to play 3 or 4 times a week until his late 80s, often using his old wooden frames.

Patty is survived by his wife and their two daughters, Christine and Elaine.

John ‘Budge’ Edward Patty, tennis player, born 11 February 1924, died 3 October 2021.


American tennis player John 'Budge' Edward Patty with his fiancé Marcina Sfezzo, 8th November 1960

© Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images



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