Gene Mako, a champion tennis player who paired with the legendary Don Budge to win four doubles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the 1930s, died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his wife, Laura. He was 97 and had pneumonia.
The partners won doubles at the U.S. Open, then called the U.S. Nationals, in 1936 and ‘38 and Wimbledon in 1937 and ‘38. Mako won the mixed doubles title at the 1936 U.S. Open with Alice Marble. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1973.
Mako was also Budge’s last remaining obstacle in that man’s pursuit of tennis’ first Grand Slam in 1938. Mako and Budge were not only playing partners but also close friends who roomed together on the road. In 1938 they traveled by ocean liner to Australia, where Budge won the first of the four major tennis tournaments. By the time they faced off in the men’s final of the U.S. Open, Budge had won the French Open and Wimbledon. Budge defeated Mako in four sets at Forest Hills, N.Y., completing the sweep of majors for the first time, a feat matched only by Australia’s Rod Laver on the men’s side and Maureen Connolly of the U.S., Margaret Court of Australia and Steffi Graf of Germany for the women.
“[Mako] encouraged my father and pushed him to be the best he could be,” Budge’s son David said Sunday. Don Budge died in 2000.
Born Jan. 24, 1916, in Budapest, Hungary, Mako as a child immigrated with his family to Buenos Aires and then Los Angeles, where his father, artist Bartholomew Mako, created works for public places like churches, libraries and post offices.
Mako played tennis at USC, earning a varsity letter in 1934, ’36 and ’37. In 1934 he won the NCAA championship in singles and doubles (with Phillip Caslin).
Mako was a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team from 1935 to ’38. But a serious injury to his right shoulder in 1936 greatly impaired his serve and curtailed his tennis career. He could still compete in doubles, however, and partnered with Budge from 1934 to ’38.
“I was a pretty happy-go-lucky guy and I was in very good shape, but I did not spend that much time working on my game,” Mako told Times columnist Jerry Crowe in 2007. “I did most everything I did with whatever talent I had.”
After retiring from tennis, he had a successful career building tennis courts and dealing in art in Los Angeles. He also served in the Navy during World War II.
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