Hurricane Worse Than Ian Nearly Stopped The First Grand Slam

Despite what some people will say, major hurricanes are not a current phenomenon.

A major hurricane, one of the most powerful and destructive in history, nearly prevented one of the greatest and most historical feats in tennis history to not happen.

In 1938, a major hurricane ravaged the Northeastern United States with sustained winds of 121 mph, including gusts as high 186 mph and peak storm surge of 17 feet! It killed 700 people, destroyed 8,900 buildings, caused equivalent of $41 billion in damage! These numbers exceed those measured by Hurricane Ian, which just devastated the Fort Myers, Naples area of Florida.

The hurricane hit New York just before the semifinals of the event and Don Budge, who was vying to become the first player to sweep all four major tournaments in a calendar year and win “The Grand Slam” had to wait six days between his quarterfinal match and his semifinal match before the New York area and the West Side Tennis Club could return to stability and functionality.

Wrote Bud Collins in “The Bud Collins History of Tennis” book (for sale and download here: of the dominant Budge at the 1938 U.S. Championships and his doubles partner and eventual final-round opponent Gene Mako,  “However. Budge could be stopped – by Mother Nature.  He and Mako were put on hold for a week, waiting out the unpredicted, super-destructive 1938 hurricane, devastating the American northeast.  It was nameless – hurricanes weren’t baptized just yet – but nonetheless notorious. ‘We were rooming together,’ says Mako. ’We went out on the town, but made sure nobody had the edge in sleep.’

The entries from the “On This Day In Tennis History” book by Randy Walker that documents the hurricane and the historic Budge victory is excerpted below.

September 23

1938 – After a delay of six days due to a hurricane hitting the New York area, play is resumed at the U.S. Championships at the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills as Don Budge keeps his dream of being the first player to win a Grand Slam alive by beating 1931 Wimbledon champion Sidney Wood 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in the men’s semifinals. Advancing to play Budge in the final is his unseeded doubles partner, Gene Mako, who defeats Australia’s John Bromwich 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the other men’s semifinal.

September 24

1938 – Don Budge achieves the first “Grand Slam” of tennis, when he defeats doubles partner and Davis Cup teammate Gene Mako 6-3, 6-8, 6-2, 6-1 in the final of the U.S. Championships at Forest Hills. At the beginning of the year, Budge made a sweep of all four major titles his secret goal for the year and one by one claimed all four tournament goals – the Australian Championships in January, the French Championships in June, Wimbledon in July and finally, the U.S. Championships. Writes Allison Danzig of The New York Times of the final “The book was closed yesterday on the greatest record of success ever compiled by a lawn tennis player in one season of national and international championships competition.” Mako, who also wins the U.S. doubles title with Budge, was the only player to win a set from Budge in the tournament. Their final is played in great spirits and with a high quality of play, despite the fact that many of the crowd of 12,000 is certain that Budge, the overwhelming favorite, would easily win the match. Writes Danzig, “The play was animated with friendly manifestations across the net whose contagion was communicated to the gallery, particularly in the third set when the crowd was roaring with mirth as the doubles champions trapped each other repeatedly with drop shots. But there was no holding back on either side and there was no trace of amiability in the scorching forehand drives with which Mako caught Budge in faulty position inside the baseline or the murderous backhand and volcanic service which Budge turned loose.”

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