Class of 1958
Singles World No. 1, U.S. No. 1
Grand Slam Results
7-time major champion
“Little” Bill Johnston capably obtained six U.S. National Tennis Championships to become a member of the Hall of Fame. Johnston, a slight 5-foot-81/2 counterpuncher, was scrappy and tenacious. His athleticism and powerful western forehand compensated for size and reach. The San Francisco native began playing on public courts in 1906, shortly after the San Francisco fire and earthquake.
Though he played in the shadow of “Big” Bill Tilden, Johnston’s game was big when it mattered. He won the 1915 U.S. National Men’s Singles Championship over the “California Comet” Maurice McLaughlin, 1-6, 6-0, 7-5,10-8. Johnston pummeled Tilden in the 1919 final, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, initiating a rivalry that would captivate tennis fans. Johnston’s victory set the stage for epic battles between the two Davis Cup teammates and combatants. Starting in 1920, Tilden reeled off six straight U.S. National Men’s Singles Championships, and defeated Johnston five times – three times in epic five-setters – and four straight from 1922-1925. The first of those marathon matches came in 1920 when Tilden avenged the previous year’s loss with a 6-1, 1-6, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 gripping victory. Little Bill’s last of seven appearances in U.S. championship matches was in 1925, with Tilden sending off his worthy adversary with a 4-6, 11-9, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 loss. Johnston played in eight singles finals (1915, 1916, 1919, 1920, 1922-25), tied for third most in history with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl.
Johnston was a mainstay at the U.S. Nationals, winning or earning a finalist position in 13 singles and doubles events. Johnston compiled a 58-10 career singles record (.853) at the U.S. event, the fourth highest winning percentage in history behind Bill Tilden, Pete Sampras, and Roger Federer. His 58 victories rank 10th best all-time. He was an adept doubles player as well. Teaming with Clarence Griffin, the two won three U.S. National Men’s Doubles Championships (1915, 1916, 1920) in what was surely entertaining and high-energy tennis featuring the game’s top “mighty-mites.”
Across the pond at Wimbledon, Johnston routed fellow American Frank Hunter 6-0, 6-3, 6-1 to capture the Wimbledon Gentlemen Singles Championship in 1923. Johnston was one of the most popular players of his generation and was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1915 and 1919. “Little Bill” played on seven straight Davis Cup Championship teams from 1920-26, compiling a phenomenal 18-3 overall record, 14-3 in singles competition. With “Little Bill” and “Big Bill” leading the charge, the United States defeated Japan once and New Zealand, Australia, and France twice each for the seven straight championships, a record that still stands in the competition that began in 1900.
Wimbledon: W (1923)
U.S. Nationals: W (1915), W (1919)
Wimbledon: SF (1921)
U.S. Nationals: W (1915), W (1916), W (1920)
U.S. Nationals: W (1921)