Bill Tilden

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Bill Tilden
Bill Tilden in color.jpg
Full nameWilliam Tatem Tilden Jr.
Country (sports)Flag of the United States.svg  United States
Born(1893-02-10)February 10, 1893
Philadelphia, PA, U.S.
DiedJune 5, 1953(1953-06-05) (aged 60)
Los Angeles, CA, U.S.
Height6 ft 1 12 in (1.87 m)
Turned pro1931 (amateur tour from 1912)
PlaysRight-handed (1-handed backhand)
Int. Tennis HoF 1959 (member page)
Career record1425–372 (79.3%)
Career titles138
Highest rankingNo. 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)
French Pro W (1933, 1934)
Grand Slam Doubles results
Wimbledon W (1927)
US Open W (1918, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1927)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
French Open W (1930)
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 six years from 1920 through 1925. He won 15 Major singles titles including ten Grand Slam events, one World Hard Court Championships and four professional majors. He was the first American to win Wimbledon in 1920. He also won a record seven U.S. Championships titles (shared with Richard Sears and Bill Larned).

Tennis ball sport with racket and net

Tennis is a racket sport that can be played individually against a single opponent (singles) or between two teams of two players each (doubles). Each player uses a tennis racket that is strung with cord to strike a hollow rubber ball covered with felt over or around a net and into the opponent's court. The object of the game is to maneuver the ball in such a way that the opponent is not able to play a valid return. The player who is unable to return the ball will not gain a point, while the opposite player will.

Grand Slam (tennis) the four most important tennis tournaments

The Grand Slam tournaments, also called majors, are the four most important annual tennis events. They offer the most ranking points, prize money, public and media attention, the greatest strength and size of field, and greater number of "best of" sets for men. The Grand Slam itinerary consists of the Australian Open in mid January, the French Open around late May through early June, Wimbledon in June-July, and the US Open in August-September. Each tournament is played over a two-week period. The Australian and United States tournaments are played on hard courts, the French on clay, and Wimbledon on grass. Wimbledon is the oldest, founded in 1877, followed by the US in 1881, the French in 1891, and the Australian in 1905. However, of these four, only Wimbledon was a major before 1924–25, when all four became designated Grand Slam tournaments. Skipping majors—especially the Australian Open because of the remoteness, the inconvenient dates and the low prize money—was not unusual before 1982.

World Hard Court Championships (WHCC) was an annual major tennis tournament held from 1912 to 1923, principally in Paris, France. The venue was the clay courts of the Stade Français in Saint-Cloud, Paris, with one exception, when they were held at the Royal Leopold Club in Brussels, Belgium, in 1922.


Tilden dominated the world of international tennis in the first half of the 1920s, and during his 18-year amateur period of 1912–29, won 138 of 192 tournaments. He owns a number of all-time tennis achievements including a career match winning record and a career winning percentage at the U.S. National Championships. At the 1929 U.S. National Championships Tilden became the first player to reach 10 finals at a single Grand Slam event. His ten finals at a grand slam tournament remained a record until 2017, when Roger Federer reached his eleventh Wimbledon final. Tilden, who was frequently at odds with the rigid United States Lawn Tennis Association about his amateur status and income derived from newspaper articles, won his last Major title in 1930 at Wimbledon aged 37. He turned professional on the last day of that year and toured with a handful of other professionals for the next 15 years.

The United States Open Tennis Championships is a hard court tennis tournament. The tournament is the modern version of one of the oldest tennis championships in the world, the U.S. National Championship, for which men's singles was first played in 1881.

Bill Tilden defeated Frank Hunter 3–6, 6–3, 4–6, 6–2, 6–4 in the final to win the Men's Singles tennis title at the 1929 U.S. National Championships. It was Tilden's seventh and final U.S. Championship title and his ninth Grand Slam title overall.

Andy Murray was the defending champion, and top seed, but was defeated by Sam Querrey in the quarterfinals. Despite his loss, Murray retained the ATP No. 1 singles ranking at the end of the tournament, as Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, and Novak Djokovic all failed to gain enough ranking points to surpass him.

Personal life

Bill Tilden was born on February 10, 1893, in Germantown, Philadelphia, into a wealthy 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. [3] He lost his semi-invalid mother, who suffered from Bright's disease, when he was 18; and, even though his father was still alive and maintained a large house staffed with servants, Bill was sent a few houses away to live with a maiden aunt. The loss at 22 of his father and an older brother Herbert marked him deeply. After several months of deep depression and, with encouragement from his aunt, tennis, which he had taken up at age six or seven at the family summer house in the Catskill Mountains, [4] [3] 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.

Germantown, Philadelphia Neighborhood of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, United States

Germantown is an area in Northwest Philadelphia. Founded by German Quaker and Mennonite families in 1683 as an independent borough, it was absorbed into Philadelphia in 1854. The area, which is about six miles northwest from the city center, now consists of two neighborhoods: 'Germantown' and 'East Germantown'.

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

Brights disease historical classification of nephritis

Bright's disease is a historical classification of kidney diseases that would be described in modern medicine as acute or chronic nephritis. It was characterized by swelling and the presence of albumin in the urine, and was frequently accompanied by high blood pressure and heart disease.

Tilden was initially home-schooled; but in 1908, he went to Germantown Academy. He later attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he joined Delta Kappa Epsilon,[ citation needed ] and graduated from Peirce College.[ citation needed ]

Germantown Academy

Germantown Academy, informally known as GA and originally known as the Union School, is the oldest nonsectarian day school in the United States. The school was founded on December 6, 1759, by a group of prominent Germantown citizens in the Green Tree Tavern on the Germantown Road. Germantown Academy enrolls students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade and is located in the Philadelphia suburb of Fort Washington, having moved from its original Germantown campus in 1965. The original campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The school shares the oldest continuous high school football rivalry with the William Penn Charter School. The academy recently completed the first two phases of a campus rebuilding plan.

University of Pennsylvania Private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is one of the nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence and the first institution of higher learning in the United States to refer to itself as a university. Benjamin Franklin, Penn's founder and first president, advocated an educational program that trained leaders in commerce, government, and public service, similar to a modern liberal arts curriculum.

Early and amateur tennis career

Suzanne Lenglen (1899-1938) and Bill Tilden (1893-1953) Suzanne Lenglen and Bill Tilden.jpg
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 eventually 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 1910 began to practice his game against a backboard, and he also became a dedicated student of the game. [5] The following year he won his first tournaments; the junior singles and doubles title of Germantown. [6] He later enrolled at the Peirce School of Business. [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.

Peirce College

Peirce College is a private college in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The college focuses on adult learners.

Mary Browne American tennis player

Mary Kendall Browne was an American professional tennis player and an amateur golfer. She was born in Ventura County, California, United States.

From 1914 to 1917, Tilden won the Philadelphia championship. [6] 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] [9] 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. In the mid-1920's, Tilden came into conflict with the USLTA regarding alleged violations of the amateur rule, specifically relating to the monetary compensation he received for writing tennis articles. [10]

Robert Lindley Murray US tennis player

Robert Lindley Murray was an American chemist and tennis player.

Richard Sears (tennis) American tennis player

Richard Dudley "Dick" Sears was an American tennis player, who won the US National Championships singles in its first seven years, from 1881 to 1887, and the doubles for six years from 1882 to 1887, after which he retired from tennis.

Rhode Island State of the United States of America

Rhode Island, officially the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest state in area, the seventh least populous, the second most densely populated, and it has the longest official name of any state. Rhode Island is bordered by Connecticut to the west, Massachusetts to the north and east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south via Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound. It also shares a small maritime border with New York. Providence is the state capital and most populous city in Rhode Island.

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 rigid amateur directors of the United States Lawn Tennis Association about his income derived from newspaper articles about tennis. [11] 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.

Professional tennis career

On 31 December 1930, 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. Tilden beat Koželuh 50–16 on the 1931 tour. 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. American Lawn Tennis reported that Vines had an edge of 11–9 in the first phase of their tour from January 10 through February 16 and that Vines led Tilden by 19 matches after the second phase of their tour, played from March 21 through May 17. Tilden had won 17 times for the entire year, per an Associated Press report, [12] so a probable win-loss record at tour's end was 36–17 in Vines' favor. 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.

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

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". [13]

Place in sports history

Bill Tilden in 1919 1-scedu tilden1919.jpg
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 1920's-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. [14]

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. [15] 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.[ citation needed ] 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 misconduct with teenage boys in the late 1940s; these led to incarcerations in the Los Angeles area. After his convictions he was shunned in public. Philadelphia's Germantown Cricket Club, his home court, revoked his membership and took down his portrait. [16] Tilden's criminal record has cast a long shadow: in March, 2016, a proposal to honor him with a historical marker at the club was voted down by the state of Pennsylvania panel charged with evaluating nominations. [17] 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). [18] He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1959.

Bill Tilden at the 1921 World Hard Court Championships in Paris. Bill Tilden 1921.jpg
Bill Tilden at the 1921 World Hard Court Championships in Paris.

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. [19]

Sexuality and morals charges

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 underage 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. [20] 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. [20] 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. [20] 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. [20] 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. [21] Chaplin allowed Tilden to use his private court for lessons to help him after the run of legal and financial problems. [22]

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. [23] “Bill had all the rumors floating around about his sexuality,” Jack Kramer said. [24] Questions remain if Tilden's prosecution was based on the rumors, many published, and homophobic stereotypes. [20] 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. [20] [25] More shocking than Tilden's being caught was the revelation that "sports and homosexuality were not mutually exclusive". [26]


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. [27] 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 died from heart complications at age 60. Tilden is buried in Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. [28]

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

Career statistics

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 93.6% winning percentage. [29] Although he never played at the Australasian Championships, Bill Tilden was the first male tennis player to win four consecutive Grand Slam titles. In 1921 the Australasian Championships were held after the U.S. National Championships. He joined professional tennis in 1931, making him then ineligible to compete in Grand Slams tournaments. He owns a number of all-time tennis achievements including an amateur career match winning record of 93.6%. [30] His career winning percentage at the US National Championships was 90.7% 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. [31] He, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal are the only players to reach 10 finals at a single Grand Slam event. At the Wimbledon Championships, he recorded a career 91.2% match record ranking him 3rd all-time behind Björn Borg and Don Budge. [32]

Titles / PlayedCareer Win-LossCareer win %
Grand Slam tournaments Amateur career10 / 23114–1389.76
Australian ANot HeldAAAAAAAAAAAA0 / 00–0N/A
French Not HeldOnly for French playersAA F A SF F 0 / 314–382.35
Wimbledon Not HeldA W W AAAAA SF SF SF W 3 / 631–391.18
U.S. A 1R 3R F F W W W W W W QF F A W SF 7 / 1469–790.79
Pro Slam tournaments Professional career4 / 1936–1767.92
French Pro AA W W SF A SF F SF Not Held2 / 610–471.43
Wembley Pro Not Held 3rd F N.H. F N.H. 3rd Not Held0 / 48–657.14
U.S. Pro W SF AA W AAA SF SF QF A QF N.H. SF 1R 2 / 918–772.00
Total:14 / 42150–3083.33


All-time records

TournamentSinceRecord accomplishedPlayers matchedReference
Grand Slam187751 consecutive match wins all 4 Majors (1920–26)Stands alone [33]
18778 consecutive finals won (1920–25) Pete Sampras
187742 match win streak at a single Grand Slam tournament US Champs (1920–26)Stands alone [34]
U.S. Championships 18817 titles overall Richard Sears
William Larned
188110 finals overallStands alone [36] [35]
18818 consecutive finals (1918–25) Ivan Lendl [37] [35]
188191.02% (71–7) match win percentage overallStands alone [38]
188142 match win streak (1920–26)Stands alone [39]
188116 combined singles, doubles, mixed doubles titles overall (1913–29)Stands alone [40]
All tournaments187798 career match win streak (1924–25)Stands alone [41]
1877100% (68–0) single season match record (1924)Stands alone [42] [43]
1877(71–1) single season match streak (1925)Stands alone [42]
187719 consecutive titles won (1924–25) Anthony Wilding
187752 consecutive finals reached (1922–26)Stands alone
1877Most appearances in a final of the Davis Cup: 11 with a record of 21–7 in singles (1920–30)Stands alone
187743 consecutive clay court finals reached (1922–29)Stands alone
187723 consecutive grass court finals reached (1921–26)Stands alone
187788.29% (445–49) grass court match winning percentageStands alone [44]
1877479 career bagels scoredStands alone [45]
1877106 career double bagels scoredStands alone [46]
187711 career triple bagels scoredStands alone [47]
187710 consecutive years with a match winning percentage of 90%+ (1918-1927)Stands alone [48]
187711 years overall with a match winning percentage of 90%+ (1918-1930)Stands alone [49]
187716 years overall with a match winning percentage of 80%+ (1914-1933)Stands alone [50]

See also

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Cochet–Tilden rivalry

This was a tennis rivalry played between the French player Henri Cochet, and the American player Bill Tilden. In their respective careers the met each other on the court 35 times from 1926 until 1939 it ended with Tilden leading in head to head matches 23-12. In Major championship matches their rivalry ended with Cochet leding Tilden 4-3.


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  6. 1 2 "American tennis stars begin battle for overseas honors on Parisian courts tomorrow". Prescott Evening Courier . May 27, 1921. p. 5 via Google News Archive.
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Further reading