Bill Tilden


Born: 10/2/1893 Died: 5/6/1953

World Hard Court (Clay) 1921

Wimbledon 1920,1921,1930

US Open 1920,1921,1922,1923,1924,1925,1929

Pro Champion 1931,1932,1933

French Pro 1934

US Pro 1931,1935

'Big' Bill Tilden was an enigma. He set new standards in the game and changed it from an austere Edwardian pastime into a highly competitive global sport played in front of sell out crowds in the great arenas of the world. Tilden was a dramatic player whose theatrical displays made him popular with tennis audiences throughout the world, though he often clashed with the authorities. Tilden knew and played against nearly all top class players from the turn of the century until his death in 1953. He was undefeated in Grand Slam events for nearly 7 years. Tilden grew up admiring the US champions from the turn of the century until the First World War, though sadly never saw the Dohertys or Wilding play and this was always a regret of his. Tilden was a baseliner with a powerful serve, but he was not a great volleyer. Tilden began playing at the turn of the century aged 6. Tilden was already 23 when he first entered the singles at the U.S. Open in 1916, losing in the first round to Harold Throckmorton. The following year he made it through to the third round where he lost to Rob Lindley Murray. In 1918 Tilden made it to the U.S. Open final, but he found Lindley Murray's serve too hot to handle. In 1919 Tilden made it to the final again but was taken apart by 'Little' Bill Johnston. Johnston exposed Tilden's weak backhand, which made Tilden even more determined to improve it. The following year Tilden took his first Wimbledon title over Gerald Patterson and won the U.S. Open in five sets over Johnston. Tilden won the 1921 World Hard Court title on clay at St Cloud. At Wimbledon it was the last year of the Challenge Round, which meant Tilden had to win just one match to retain his title, beating Brian Norton from 2 sets to 0 down. The US Championships moved from Forest Hills (where it had been held since 1915) and was staged instead in Tilden's hometown of Philadelphia. This guaranteed sell-out crowds as the locals turned out to support one of their own. Tilden beat Johnston in the last 16 and went on to beat Wallace Johnson in the final. There was widespread disappointment that Tilden and Johnston met each other so early. This led to the introduction of seeding. In the 1922 U.S. final Tilden trailed two sets to love against Johnston but staged a brilliant comeback to win in five sets. In the 1923 U.S. final Tilden beat Johnston in straight sets. The following year the championships returned to Forest Hills and Tilden beat Johnston in the final in straight sets. In 1925 crowds flocked to the U.S. Open to support Johnston but once again he was denied by the villain Tilden in five long sets, his fourth consecutive final defeat to Tilden. This was Tilden's sixth consecutive U. S. title and he is the only man to win six consecutive titles at a Grand Slam event playing through the draw. However, by the mid twenties times were changing. Lacoste and Cochet were now approaching their peak, which signalled an end to Tilden's dominance. Tilden lost in the quarters of the U.S. Open in 1926 to Henri Cochet in five sets. Tilden's run of 42 consecutive wins at the U. S. Open had finally come to an end and it is still a record in Grand Slam events. Tilden made it to the final of the French Open in 1927 and led by two sets to one against Rene Lacoste. Tilden reached match point at 9-8 40-30 fifth set served what he thought was a line clipping ace but Henri Cochet, who was calling that line, shouted "fault". Tilden went on to lose. Lacoste denied him again in the final of the U.S. Open in straight sets. Tilden was embroiled in a row with the USTA in 1928 and was banned from competing in the U.S. Open. The French threatened to boycott the Davis Cup final held in Paris that year unless the ban against Big Bill was lifted. The USTA relented and Tilden played in the final, which the French won. The following year Tilden took a record equalling seventh U.S. title, beating Frank Hunter from two sets to one down in the final. At Wimbledon in 1930, Tilden beat Wilmer Allison to take his last Grand Slam title at the age of 37. At the U.S. Open he lost in the semis to John Doeg and then turned professional. He was the first high profile player to sign a pro contract and from then on there were very few top players who did not follow his example. Tilden continued to be a fine player well into his forties, his tactical skill compensating somewhat for his ageing body. At 41 Tilden played a head to head tour against new pro and king of the amateurs Ellsworth Vines and, though he was outplayed by the much younger man, Tilden only lost by the margin of 38 matches to 19. In the 1940s Tilden served a jail sentence for an offense against a minor, a conviction that marred his later years. He was found dead in his hotel room in 1953, just days before he was due to compete in a pro tournament. His coaching manuals on the game are a collector's item and are still regarded as one of the most comprehensive tactical volumes ever written.


HEAD TO HEAD Win-Loss: W.Allison 1-0, J.Borotra 4-0, N.Brookes 1-0, H.Cochet 1-4, J.Doeg 1-1, C.Gregory 1-0, B.Johnston 6-1, A.Kingscote 1-0, R.Lacoste 0-4, G.Lowe 1-0, R.L.Murray 0-2, P.O Hara Wood 1-0, C.Parke 1-0, G.Patterson 2-0, D.Williams 1-0

PRO SLAM HEAD TO HEAD Win-Loss: D.Budge 0-3, H.Cochet 2-0, K.Kozeluh 2-1, H.Nusslein 1-6, F.Perry 0-1, E.Vines 1-2

Bill Tilden's Grand Slam record
Bill Tilden's Pro Slam record

The Professional Tennis Archive