1999 ATP TOURNAMENT THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER MONDAY, AUGUST 9, 1999 None bigger than Bill Tilden
BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
He was more than 6 feet tall with big shoulders, earning him the nickname "Big" Bill Tilden. The 1926 Tri-State champion is considered one of the greatest players ever and certainly the dominant player of his era.
From 1912 to 1930, Tilden won 93.6 percent of his matches (907-62). He won 138 tournaments and finished second in another 28 -- out of 192 events.
Tilden was considered a decent player. But it was after he spent a winter offseason working on his backhand at a friend's indoor court in Providence, R.I., that he emerged as almost unbeatable. The year was 1920. Over the next six years, he would win two Wimbledons, 13 consecutive Davis Cup matches and 42 straight matches overall.
"He was a very imposing player," Boston Globe columnist and tennis historian Bud Collins said. "He would hold three balls in his hand, maybe serve three consecutive aces. He often toyed with opponents. He'd let them get a lead and then caught up. He felt he had to give the gallery a show.
"He was a man who did it his way. He didn't have much patience with tennis officials."
Tilden smoked non-stop and was known to eat big meals before matches.
FUN FACT George Lott won the Tri-State three times in the decade, thus retiring the Tri-State Bowl. Lott had possession of the bowl until the 1930s, when he was in financial need and sold it to the Cincinnati Tennis Club. The club still owns the winner's prize, which is kept in a vault downtown.
Collins calls Tilden a "tragic figure" whose life was marked with personal woes.
Both Tilden's parents died when he was young after an epidemic in Philadelphia claimed many lives of those in his family. While he earned plenty of money playing tennis and later writing about the sport (Match Play and the Spin of the Ball is still considered a classic tennis book), he eventually spent it all and died a pauper in 1953.
Collins said Tilden went to jail later in his life for contributing to delinquency of a minor, then for violating his parole.
A LOOK BACK...
Copyright 1999 The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper.
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