Known for his style of forehand volley, he was one of only three Americans to win the French and Wimbledon men’s singles in the same year.
Buzz Petty, one of only three Americans to win the French and Wimbledon men’s singles tennis championships in the same year and a glamorous figure on the international tennis scene of the 1950s, died on Monday in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was 97 years old.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame announced his death at a hospital on Friday. He had been living in Europe for more than 70 years and lived in Lausanne at the time of his death.
Patty honed her skills as a teenager at the Los Angeles Tennis Club and won the United States Junior Championships in 1941 and ’42. But he settled in Paris after World War II and played mostly on the continent and in Britain.
He was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1950 when he defeated Czech defender Jaroslav Drobny in five sets to win the French championship, then only four sets were needed to defeat Australia’s Frank Sedgman in the Wimbledon final. Don Buzz in 1938, and Tony Trabert in 1955, are the only other American men to have won singles titles at both of those Grand Slam tournaments in one year. (Trabert died in February at 90.)
Known for an excellent all-around game, but especially for a strong forehand volley, Patty was generally in the top 10 in the world rankings between 1947 and 1957 and was included in International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI in 1977.
But he played sporadically at the United States Nationals in Forest Hills, Queens, never progressing past the quarterfinals in singles, and did not compete in the Australian Championships.
Patty was almost always described as beautiful, elegant and a fashionable dresser. In late July 1950, anticipating Patty’s appearance at Forest Hills in search of a third major win that year, longtime tennis writer, Allison Danzig, noted how wearing a short skirt and lace-trimmed underwear at Wimbledon Gussie Moran created a sensation. “Now men’s tennis has its own glamor boy,” he wrote.
“Budge Petty has made him swoon on the French Riviera over the years,” Danzig continued, “that it was not fair, that anyone so tall and handsome, with that je ne sais quoi that defies translation but Forces dedication, must spend all his time on the continent when he had a nice home in California.”
But any Forest Hills fans willing to pounce on Patty were disappointed. He hurt his ankle while playing doubles in Newport in mid-August and was unable to compete at the United States Nationals later that summer.
John Edward Petty was born on February 11, 1924, in Fort Smith, Ark. His family moved to the Los Angeles area when he was young.
According to the Hall of Fame, he got his nickname when a brother considered him lazy and called him Budge that he often failed to do.
After winning two junior championships, Petty entered the Army Air Forces during World War II. He captured the singles championship in September 1945 at a tournament held for Allied troops on the French Riviera. Three years later, he made Paris his home.
He had a French-born grandmother and an Austrian grandfather, and once remarked how “even as a child I knew I would like Europe.”
Patty won the mixed doubles at the 1946 French Championships with Pauline Betz and then lost to Frank Parker in the 1949 French singles final and won it the following year.
He played in every French and Wimbledon tournament from 1946 to 1960. e. Digby Baltzel wrote in his book “Sporting Gentlemen” (1995), “Budge Petty’s perfect manners and excellent tennis style made him a Wimbledon idol for 15 years.”
His most memorable match was a marathon duel with Drobny in the third round of the 1953 Wimbledon Championships.
Over five sets and 93 games that lasted nearly four-and-a-half hours, it ended in the fading lights at 9 p.m. when Patty succumbed after losing six match points.
“I could barely see a thing, and I was so exhausted that I barely knew where I was,” he told British newspaper The Telegraph in 2000, recalling his last moments.
At 33, Patty teamed up with 43-year-old Gardner Mulloy to win the 1957 Wimbledon men’s doubles championship, stunning Australia’s Lew Hoad and Neale Fraser, who were in their early 20s.
Remaining an amateur for the rest of his career, Patty won 46 singles championships.
He married María Marcina Sfezo, the daughter of a Brazilian engineering magnate, in 1961. She lives with him with two daughters, Christine and Elaine Petty.
In a 1958 interview with The Times, Patty, playing for four or five months a year while working for a Paris travel agency and enjoying life in Europe, said that she needed to compete in her 40s. did not expect.
The world-class players who did this were never “smoking, drinking or going to bed after 10 pm”. “Me, I like to enjoy life.”
But 50 years after his double win at the Grand Slam tournament, Patty balked at how he was portrayed in the pages of the game.
“Tennis players are like tennis players now,” he told The Telegraph in 2000. “If they see someone wearing a tie, they think it’s weird. It was like, ‘Wow, Buzz is wearing a tailored jacket — he must be a secret agent.’ It was ridiculous. I never took any notice.”
Alex Traub contributed reporting.