Advantage Perry: how a working-class hero rattled the champagne set

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As the 1936 Wimbledon approached, there was considerable doubt whether Fred Perry would add to his victories of 1934 and 1935. Perry had lost his US, Australian and French titles and there were people at the All England Club and the Lawn Tennis Association quite happy at the prospect of him losing the Wimbledon crown, too, since his working-class background meant that he was not accepted by many in those organisations.

As ever, though, Perry's preparations were meticulous. His close friend Dan Maskell and Davis Cup team-mate Pat Hughes put him through arduous practice sessions and David Jones, a big-serving American, was hired to unleash on Fred the sort of barrage which some of Jones's compatriots might be preparing. In fact, Perry breezed through five rounds without dropping a set, then he came up against one of those big-serving Americans, Don Budge.

Fred lost the first set but won in four and was through to a final with Gottfried Von Cramm, the German aristocrat he had beaten in the 1935 final but who had defeated him in the final of the French Championships a couple of weeks previously. As he had done before, Fred asked a pal, Pops Summers, to undertake a thorough reconnaissance on Von Cramm.

"We knew all about his movements between Wednesday evening, when he reached the final, and Friday afternoon, when he walked on to Centre Court to face me," Perry recalled in his auto-biography. "He was staying at the Savoy and we knew what he ate, how he ate, when he ate, what time he went to bed and how he had slept. It was all done through friendly waiters and chambermaids." But the most important piece of information was uncovered when Perry went for a massage at the All England Club and was told by the masseur that he should have no worries about the final because Von Cramm had a groin strain.

When Perry asked which side the strain was on, the masseur replied: "I'm not allowed to tell you, but what I can tell you is that he is going to have trouble stretching wide on the right." The first game went to 10 deuces and 24 points before Perry held serve. "But the vital factor was that I saw Von Cramm go over for a wide forehand and wince. So after that I hit to his backhand to get him over to one side of the court and then followed it up with a wide forehand. The poor fellow was crippled, so it wasn't much of a match."

Mindful that he himself had been injured during the US Championships the previous year, Perry finished it off as fast as he could. It was all over in 40 minutes, the quickest Wimbledon men's final since 1881. Perry won 6-1 6-1 6-0, his third straight-sets triumph. After the loser had congratulated Fred, he sent a message to the crowd via the umpire: "Baron Von Cramm asks me to state that he has strained a muscle in his leg and is sorry he could not play better this afternoon."

It was sweet revenge for Perry after the loss of his French title to the German. He was to recall sarcastically in later years: "So this infernal Perry, a chap of quite the wrong calibre, had become the first Briton since Laurie Doherty in 1903 to win the Championship three times running."

There were rumours that Perry was thinking of turning professional but first Fred had one more mission – to help Britain defend the Davis Cup against Australia at Wimbledon. Britain won for the fourth successive year when Perry beat Jack Crawford – in straight sets once more – in the deciding rubber for a 3-2 victory. Dan Maskell came on court to collect Fred's rackets, and as they walked off Centre Court, Perry said, "Just a minute, Dan," and walked back for a final look round the arena of his many triumphs. "In that instant," said Perry, "Maskell knew that I was going to turn pro and that I was gone for ever from Wimbledon and from the Davis Cup."

Smarting over his treatment at the hands of English snobs, Fred set off for America, won the US title for a third time, beating Budge 10-8 in the fifth set, then on 6 November 1936, as the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, "Perry swapped glory for gold".