Bill Tilden

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Bill Tilden
Bill Tilden in color.jpg
Full name William Tatem Tilden II
Country United States
Born February 10, 1893
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Died June 5, 1953(1953-06-05) (aged 60)
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Height 1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)
Turned pro 1931 (amateur tour from 1912)
Retired 1946
Plays Right-handed (1-handed backhand)
Int. Tennis HOF 1959 (member page)
Singles
Career record 907-62 (93.6%)
Career titles 138
Highest ranking No. 1 (1920, A. Wallis Myers)[1]
Grand Slam Singles results
French Open F (1927, 1930)
Wimbledon W (1920, 1921, 1930)
US Open W (1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1929)
Other tournaments
WHCC W (1921)
Professional majors
US Pro W (1931, 1935)
Wembley Pro F (1935, 1937, 1938)
French Pro W (1933, 1934)
Doubles
Grand Slam Doubles results
Wimbledon W (1927)
US Open W (1918, 1922, 1923)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
US Open W (1913, 1914, 1922, 1923)
Team competitions
Davis Cup W (1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926)

William Tatem Tilden II (February 10, 1893 – June 5, 1953), nicknamed "Big Bill," was an American male tennis player. He is often considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time.[2] Tilden was the World No. 1 player for seven years. He won 14 Major singles titles including 10 Grand Slams, 1 World Hard Court Championships and 3 Pro Slams. He also won a record seven US Championships titles (shared with Richard Sears and Bill Larned). He dominated the world of international tennis in the first half of the 1920s, and during his 18-year amateur period of 1912–30, he won 138 of 192 tournaments. He owns a number of all-time tennis achievements including a career match winning record of 93.60% 907/62.[3] His career winning percentage at the US National Championships was 90.69% 69/7 that ranks him first ahead of Roger Federer, Fred Perry and Pete Sampras, and also a 42 match win streak from 1920 to 1926 is ahead of Roger Federer and Ivan Lendl. His 95 match winning streak from 1924 to 1925 is ahead of Don Budge and Roy Emerson, and also his best win-loss single season coming in 1920 at 98.73%, 78/1, places him ahead of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.[citation needed] In addition he remains the only player to reach 10 Major finals at a single Grand Slam event in a career at the US National Championships. At the Wimbledon Championships, he recorded a career 91.18% 31/3 match record ranking him 3rd all-time behind Björn Borg and Don Budge.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Tilden was born into a wealthy Philadelphia family bereaved by the death of three older siblings. His father was William Tatem Tilden, a wool merchant and local politician, and his mother Selina Hey was a pianist.[5] He lost his semi-invalid mother when he was 18 and, even though his father was still alive and maintained a large house staffed with servants, was sent a few houses away to live with a maiden aunt. The loss at 22 of his father and older brother Herbert marked him deeply. After several months of deep depression, and with encouragement from his aunt, tennis, which he had taken up starting at age five, became his primary means of recovery. According to his biographer, Frank Deford, because of his early family losses Tilden spent all of his adult life attempting to create a father-son relationship with a long succession of ball boys and youthful tennis protégés, of whom Vinnie Richards was the most noted. In spite of his worldwide travels, Tilden lived at his aunt's house until 1941 when he was 48 years old.

Tilden attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated from Peirce College.

Early and amateur tennis career[edit]

Suzanne Lenglen (1899–1938) and Bill Tilden (1893–1953)

Tilden went to the prep school Germantown Academy where he wasn't known for his tennis nor was he good enough to play on his college team. The shy, self-absorbed, sometimes arrogant young man dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania and in 1900 began to practice his game against a backboard, and he also became a dedicated student of the game.[6] The following year he won his first tournaments; the junior singles and doubles title of Germantown.[7] In just three years, he worked his way up the ranks. His first national title was winning the mixed doubles championships with Mary Browne in 1913 and they successfully defended the title in 1914. From 1914 to 1917 he won the Philadelphia championship.[7] Prior to 1920, he had won a number of Canadian doubles titles[citation needed], but at the U.S. National Championships in 1918 and 1919 he lost the singles final to Robert Lindley Murray and "Little Bill" Johnston, respectively in straight sets. He won six consecutive U.S. singles championships from 1920–1925 and seven in total, making him the co-record holder with Richard Sears and Bill Larned.[8] In the winter of 1919–20, he moved to Rhode Island where, on an indoor court, he devoted himself to remodeling his relatively ineffective backhand into a much more effective one. With this change, he became the world no. 1 tennis player and the first male American to win the Wimbledon singles championship.

Professional tennis career[edit]

In the late 1920s, the great French players known as the "Four Musketeers" finally wrested the Davis Cup away from Tilden and the United States, as well as his domination of the singles titles at Wimbledon and Forest Hills. Tilden had long been at odds with the draconically rigid amateur directors of the United States Lawn Tennis Association about his income derived from newspaper articles about tennis. He won his last major championship at Wimbledon in 1930 at the age of 37, but was no longer able to win titles at will.

In 1931, in need of money, he turned professional and joined the fledgling pro tour, which had begun only in 1927. For the next 15 years, he and a handful of other professionals such as Hans Nüsslein and Karel Koželuh barnstormed across the United States and Europe in a series of one-night stands, with Tilden still the player that people primarily paid to see. Even with greats such as Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry, and Don Budge as his opponents, all of them current or recent world no. 1 players, it was often Tilden who ensured the box-office receipts—and who could still hold his own against the much younger players for a first set or even an occasional match.

Tilden thought he reached the apogee of his whole career in 1934 at 41 years old; nevertheless, that year he was dominated in the pro ranks by Ellsworth Vines. The players faced each other at least 60 times in 1934, Tilden winning about 19 matches and Vines 41. American Lawn Tennis reported that on May 17, at tour’s end, Vines led Tilden by 19 matches for the year (slightly over about 50 matches would have been played) so a possible win-loss record on May 17 was 16–35; both players then met at least 6 times during the rest of the year (Ray Bowers has listed 5 tournament matches and 1 one-night program), all lost by Tilden. Then both players met at least six times (five times in tournaments and once in one-night indoor program), with Tilden losing all his matches. In 1945, the 52-year old Tilden and his long-time doubles partner Vinnie Richards won the professional doubles championship—they had won the United States amateur title 27 years earlier in 1918.

Davis Cup coach[edit]

Tilden coached Germany's tennis team in the 1937 Davis Cup. In the inter-zone finals, the U.S. team won after the deciding singles clash between Gottfried von Cramm and Don Budge, a match which has been called "The Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played".[9]

Place in sports history[edit]

Bill Tilden in 1919

Allison Danzig, the main tennis writer for The New York Times from 1923 through 1968, and the editor of The Fireside Book of Tennis, called Tilden the greatest tennis player he had ever seen. "He could run like a deer," Danzig once told CBS Sports. An extended Danzig encomium to Tilden's tennis appears in the July 11, 1946 issue of The Times, in which he reports on a 1920s-evoking performance in the first two sets of a five-set loss by the 53-year-old Tilden to Wayne Sabin, at the 1946 Professional Championship at Forest Hills.[10]

In his 1979 autobiography, Jack Kramer, the long-time tennis promoter and great player himself, included Tilden in his list of the six greatest players of all time.[11] Kramer began playing tennis with Tilden at age 15 at the Los Angeles Tennis Club (LATC).

Tilden, who was one of the most famous athletes in the world for many years, today is not widely remembered, despite his former renown. During his lifetime, however, he was a flamboyant character who was never out of the public eye, acting in both movies and plays, as well as playing tennis. He also had two arrests for sexual misbehavior with teenage boys in the late 1940s; these led to incarcerations in the Los Angeles area. He was shunned in public, his name was removed from the alumni files of Penn, and his photos removed from the walls of his home club, the Germantown Cricket Club.[12] In 1950, in spite of his legal record and public disgrace, an Associated Press poll named Tilden the greatest tennis player of the half-century by a wider margin than that given to any athlete in any other sport (310 out of 391 votes).

In the United States' sports-mad decade of the Roaring Twenties, Tilden was one of the six dominant figures of the "Golden Age of Sport", along with Babe Ruth, Howie Morenz, Red Grange, Bobby Jones, and Jack Dempsey.[13]

Sexuality and morals charges[edit]

Tilden was arrested in November 1946 on Sunset Boulevard by the Beverly Hills police and charged with a misdemeanor ("contributing to the delinquency of a minor") for soliciting an under-age male, a 14-year-old boy with whom he was having sex in a moving vehicle. Tilden did not carry his glasses with him and signed a confession without reading it.[14] He was sentenced to a year in prison, but served 7½ months. His five-year parole conditions were so strict they virtually erased all his income from private lessons.[14] He was arrested again in January 1949, after picking up a 16-year-old hitchhiker who remained anonymous until years later, when he filed a lawsuit claiming he had suffered severe mental, physical, and emotional damage from the encounter. The judge sentenced Tilden to a year on probation violation and let the punishment for the charge run concurrently. Tilden served ten months. In both cases, apparently, he sincerely believed that his celebrity and his longtime friendship with Hollywood names such as Charlie Chaplin were enough to keep him from jail.[14] He therefore defended himself in court in both cases in a far less than vigorous fashion. After his incarceration, he was increasingly shunned by the tennis and Hollywood world.[14] He was unable to give lessons at most clubs, and even on public courts he had fewer clients. At one point, he was invited to play at a prestigious professional tournament being held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel; at the last moment, he was told that he could not participate.[15] Chaplin allowed Tilden to use his private court for lessons to help him after the run of legal and financial problems.[16]

According to contemporary George Lott, a player and later tennis coach at DePaul University, and authoritative biographer Frank Deford, Tilden never made advances to players, whether other adults or his pupils. Art Anderson of Burbank, who took lessons from Tilden from the age of eleven and remained a lifelong loyal friend, reported that Tilden never made advances toward him.[17] “Bill had all the rumors floating around about his sexuality,” Jack Kramer said.[18] Questions remain if Tilden's prosecution was based on the rumors, many published, and homophobic stereotypes.[14] California did not repeal its sodomy law until 1976. Because he lived in an era when homosexual sex was illegal and was not tolerated socially, some suspect that Tilden was a victim of the homophobic society of the era.[14][19] More shocking than Tilden's being caught was the revelation that "sports and homosexuality were not mutually exclusive".[20]

Death[edit]

Although Tilden had been born to wealth, and earned large sums of money during his long career, particularly in his early years on the pro tour, he spent it lavishly, keeping a suite at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Much of his income went towards financing Broadway shows that he wrote, produced, and starred in.[21] The last part of his life was spent quietly and away from his family, occasionally participating in celebrity tennis matches. He died in his apartment at 2025 North Argyle in Los Angeles, California. He was preparing to leave for the United States Professional Championship tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1953 when he fell dead of a stroke. Tilden is buried in Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia[22]

Tilden was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1959.

Career statistics[edit]

According to Bud Collins, as an amateur (1912–1930), Tilden won 138 of 192 tournaments, lost 28 finals and had a 907–62 match record, a 93.60% winning percentage. Bill Tilden joined professional tennis in 1931, making him then ineligible to compete in Grand Slams tournaments.

Titles / Played Career Win-Loss Career win %
Grand Slam tournaments Amateur career 10 / 23 114–13 89.76
1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929 1930
Australian A Not Held A A A A A A A A A A A A 0 / 0 0–0 N/A
French Not Held Only for French players A A F A SF F 0 / 3 14–3 82.35
Wimbledon Not Held A W W A A A A A SF SF SF W 3 / 6 31–3 91.18
U.S. A 1R 3R F F W W W W W W QF F A W SF 7 / 14 69–7 90.79
Pro Slam Tournaments Professional career 4 / 19 36–17 67.92
1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946
French Pro A A W W SF A SF F SF Not Held 2 / 6 10–4 71.43
Wembley Pro Not Held 3rd F A F F 3rd Not Held 0 / 4 8–7 53.33
U.S. Pro W SF A A W A A A SF SF QF A QF N.H. SF 1R 2 / 9 18–7 72.00
Total: 14 / 42 150–30 83.33

Records[edit]

All-time records[edit]

Tournament Since Record accomplished Players matched
Grand Slam 1877 90.90% 100-10 Major grass court winning percentage overall Stands alone
Grand Slam 1877 Reached 10 Major finals single event overall Stands alone
US Open 1881 7 titles overall Richard Sears
William Larned
US Open 1881 10 finals overall Stands alone
US Open 1881 90.79% 69-7 match win percentage overall Stands alone
US Open 1881 42 match win streak 1920-26 Stands alone
All 1881 93.60% 907-62 career match win percentage overall Stands alone
All 1877 95 career match win streak 1924-25 Stands alone
All 1877 98.73% 78-1 single season match win streak 1925 Stands alone

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ United States Lawn Tennis Association (1972). Official Encyclopedia of Tennis (First Edition), p. 423.
  2. ^ "Top 10 Men's Tennis Players of All Time". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved September 23, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Tilden, William "Big Bill" (1893–1953)". GLBTQ Encyclopedia. 2002. Retrieved May 28, 2010. 
  4. ^ Tilden, William (Bill). "Players Archive/ Match Record". 2014. Wimbledon.Com. Retrieved 29 January 2014. 
  5. ^ "Bill Tidlen". American National Biography Online. 
  6. ^ Richard Schickel, ‘’The World of Tennis’’, 1975, The Ridge Press, New York, ISBN 0-394-49940-9, p. 59
  7. ^ a b "American tennis start begin battle for overseas honors on Parisian courts tomorrow". Prescott Evening Courier. May 27, 1921. 
  8. ^ "Tilden Retains His National Net Title" (PDF). The New York Times. September 20, 1921. 
  9. ^ Deutsche Welle: Germany vs. the US in 1937: The "greatest tennis match ever played"
  10. ^ Danzig, Allison (July 11, 1946). "Sabin Rally Halts Tilden In Five Sets; 'Big Bill' Eliminated From Pro Tennis Tourney". The New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  11. ^ Writing in 1979, Kramer considered the best ever to have been either Don Budge (for consistent play) or Ellsworth Vines (at the height of his game). The next four best were, chronologically, Tilden, Fred Perry, Bobby Riggs, and Pancho Gonzales. After these six came the "second echelon" of Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Gottfried von Cramm, Ted Schroeder, Jack Crawford, Pancho Segura, Frank Sedgman, Tony Trabert, John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Björn Borg, and Jimmy Connors. He felt unable to rank Henri Cochet and René Lacoste accurately, but felt they were among the very best.
  12. ^ Richard Schickel, p. 77
  13. ^ "Tilden brought theatrics to tennis". Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f Sam Kashner, pages 47–59.
  15. ^ Deford (1976), pp198–207.
  16. ^ Joyce Milton , page 447.
  17. ^ "Big Bill Tilden Remembered: Burbank Man Keeps Memory Alive". Originally published in Daily News (LA). 2.12. 1996.
  18. ^ Karen Crouse (August 30, 2009). "Bill Tilden: A Tennis Star Defeated Only by Himself". The New York Times. 
  19. ^ Marshall Jon Fisher, pages 15–28.
  20. ^ Robert Hofler, page 194.
  21. ^ IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information
  22. ^ Findagrave.com

Sources[edit]

  • Deford, Frank (1976). Big Bill Tilden: The Triumphs and the Tragedy. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-22254-6
  • Joyce Milton, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin[1] – Da Capo Press, 1998.
  • Marshall Jon Fisher, A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played[2] – Random House, Inc., 2010.
  • Robert Hofler, The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson[3] – Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2006.
  • Sam Kashner, Jennifer Macnair, The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties[4] – W. W. Norton & Company, 2003
  • Jack Kramer, The Game, My 40 Years in Tennis, (1979)
  • Caroline Seebohm, Little Pancho, (2009)
  • Pancho Gonzales, Man with a Racket, (1959)
  • Bobby Riggs, Tennis is my Racket, (1949)
  • Gardnar Mulloy, As It Was, (2009)

Further reading[edit]

  • Fisher, Marshall Jon (2009). A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played. ISBN 978-0-307-39394-4

External links[edit]