America’s Best Tennis Player?

tildenDuring the Roaring 20’s the world of tennis was dominated by one man, a fascinating and tragic American character named “Big Bill” Tilden, who went undefeated for seven consecutive years.

Classic Book

Naples/Newk friend Willy Hoffmann lent me the biography written by famed sports writer Frank Deford that chronicles the roller coaster life of this incredibly talented tennis player whose homosexuality (and fondness for young boys) made him a social outcast who would die penniless.

Holiday Gift Ideas

A tennis book is a great holiday gift-giving idea for friends and family. And don’t forget mine!

You can easily order one or more copies of my popular “Senior Tennis” book online for $14.95 at by just clicking on the link on the upper right of this web page. Or if you would like a personally signed and dedicated copy (for $15 + $10 shipping) just let me know and I will mail to you.

What great tennis books have you enjoyed?

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7 thoughts on “America’s Best Tennis Player?

  1. Tilden was indeed a fascinating man.

    Born into a wealthy family, he lived in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, not far from the legendary Germantown Cricket Club. Despite living so close to a world renowned tennis club and access to some of the best instruction in the era (in Tilden’s day, it was pretty much unheard of to learn tennis on the street or via public courts; it was a rich, white and privileged man’s sport) Tilden was not a particularly good player as a youth. He even failed to make his high school tennis team (Germantown Academy) and he also did not make the team at his first college (the University of Pennsylvania). Disappointed, he dropped out of college and devoted himself to getting better at the game, playing almost non-stop against a backboard and also studying all of the intricacies and theories of the game at the time. (His seminal book, Match Play And The Spin Of The Ball describes much of this.) Within a year or so, he had re-enrolled in another college (the Peirce School of Business) and was also advancing rapidly up the ranks as, first, the best tennis player in Philadelphia and, in short order, a national caliber player. He won his first national title (in mixed doubles) only three years after deciding to devote himself to the game. And the rest, as they say, is history.

    Consider this: If you were so bad that you could not even make your high school team as a senior, do you think there is any way that you could wind up winning a national championship today by the equivalent of your junior year in college? What Tilden did is, to me, simply extraordinary.

    I will leave it to others to comment on his notorious personal life, especially the tragic later years when he went to jail for pedophilism, etc., which I think has had the unfortunate effect of detracting from Tilden’s legend. Looking back at Tilden’s life with 21st Century standards, laws and mores, it may be the case that much of what got him in trouble in the early to mid 20th Century would at least be tolerated, if not non-criminal, today.

    Suffice it to say that, at Germantown Cricket Club, you can almost feel the presence of Tilden’s ghost throughout the building and on the grounds. I actually live quite close to GCC and play there on the grass courts regularly in the summer, including playing the last two years in the men’s national 50’s on grass. Although I am truly out of my league playing against some of the guys in that tournament, both because of my age and my skill level, it always inspires me to play just a little bit better knowing that Tilden must have served and volleyed on the same courts and shown that, with a little dedication and hard work, even a player of limited accomplishment can aspire to greatness.

    Marty – good stuff. thanks. george

  2. fascinating that Tilden did not excel at the highest levels until he was much older than today’s top players-and he was missing part of a finger on his racket hand, as well. He was much taller than average for the time and he studied the game as Ted Williams studied hitting-Happy Thanksgiving!!

    Baby Doc – yes, he insisted and telling everyone that he was 6′ 1 AND 1/2″ tall; but everyone thought he was even taller. thanks, george.

  3. No comment but rather a question about Bill Tilden. Who did he defeat at the US Open in 1924? We met him in Pasadena, Ca. 20 years ago but do not recall his name. Have to buy the book but am 100 books behind now. Anyone know his name? His claim was he lost in 5 sets but no one remembers him. However, he did win the 85 nationals for his first national win about a year after we met him. He was about 5’3″ and a fast little bugger with a great personality. Help!

    Gene – He is a main character in the first part of the book…. Bill Tilden defeated Bill Johnston 6–1, 9–7, 6–2. George

  4. “A Terrible Splendor” by Marshall Jon Fisher is another exceptional book to give tennis players and fans describing the Wimbledon match on the eve of World War 2 between the Nazi representative, Gottfried Von Cramm, and the American Don Budge. Bill Tilden loomed large in the book and the tennis world at the time and his heroic/tragic life played a part in the dramatic match. (Called the Greatest Tennis Match in History.) A worthwhile read, if only to understand tennis history and it’s part in world politics.

    Tom – i have heard of it and tried to get from my library; but not available. thanks. george

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