Class of 1959
World No. 1 (1920)
Grand Slam Results
21-time major champion
Overall Record: 907-62
Member of the US Davis Cup Team 1920-1930
Member of the US Championship Davis Cup Team 1920-1926
Overall Record: 34-7
Singles Record: 25-5
Doubles Record: 9-2
William Tatem Tilden II towered over tennis both literally and figuratively. Known as “Big Bill,” he thoroughly dominated the game from 1920-26. During that stretch, the 6-foot-2 foot Tilden won six straight U.S. National Championship Men’s Singles titles and Wimbledon twice. He punctuated that by winning 13 straight Davis Cup matches and leading the United States to seven consecutive titles, a Davis Cup record, over the foremost players from Australia, France, and Japan. Tilden brought a thinking approach to tennis, rather than a booming serve and banging forehand. He studied and mastered the use of spin, favored drop shots and lobs and would rely on his athleticism and physical talents to defeat his opponents. Tilden’s place in tennis history extends his on-court prowess. He was handsome, smart, gregarious, and charming, but he was likewise opinionated, arrogant, and inconsiderate. As stardom rose, so did his ego.
Despite personal shortcomings, tennis holds its heroes in the highest esteem and close to the heart. Tilden was no different. He was beloved and admired, as much for the brilliance he brought to the court as the Hollywood appeal he exuded off the court. That side of Tilden’s personality was fitting -- he long desired to become an actor and was a writer of seven tennis books. Allison Danzig, the legendary New York Times tennis writer from 1923-68, called Tilden the “greatest player he had ever seen.” Tilden had style and flash, walking onto the court in the 1920 U.S. National Singles Championship finals match against William Johnston wearing a camel hair coat. Luckily, Tilden was able to back up such pretentious entrance, winning a five-set slugfest 6-1, 1-6, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 over an opponent he would dispatch in five of his seven title match victories. With the triumph, a star was born. Legendary status would soon follow.
Tilden played as an amateur from 1912-31, and then in need of money played professionally from 1931-37. For years Tilden had resisted the lure of professional tennis, but upon his retirement in 1946, it was estimated he earned $500,000. As either an amateur or pro, Tilden was unbeatable, his seven U.S. National victories were earned at a 91 percent clip – he had 73 wins in 80 matches and from 1920-26 won 42 straight matches. Frenchman René Lacoste interrupted Tilden’s reign of mastery, winning the 1926 and 1927 titles, the later victory coming over Tilden in three sets. Though doubles wasn’t necessarily his forte, judging by his U.S. National record he was extremely proficient. He won five men’s doubles titles and added four mixed doubles championships.
Tilden became the first American to win Wimbldeon, capturing back-to-back championships in 1920 and 1921 over Australian Gerarld Patterson and South African Brian Norton respectively. Curiously, he didn’t return until 1927, losing in the semifinals three straight years. In 1930, and at age 37, Tilden became the oldest man to win a Wimbledon's singles title, defeating American Wilmer Allison in straight sets. Tilden’s Davis Cup teams were invincible from 1920-26, winning seven straight titles. Big Bill led the charge, compiling a 34-7 record, including a 25-5 mark in singles, third best in history behind Andre Agassi and John McEnroe.
Many of Tilden’s statistical records stand alone, most notably his ten U.S. National finals appearances, a 42 match win streak at Forest Hills (1920-26), a 95 match win streak (1924-26), and a 78-1 single season match streak (1925). Tilden didn’t lose at match in 1924 and was ranked in the world’s Top 10 times from 1919-30, He was ranked No. 1 a record six times (1920-25), matched by Pete Sampras in 1998.
French Nationals: F 1927, 1930
Wimbledon: W 1920, 1921, 1930
U.S. Nationals: W 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1929
Wimbledon: W 1927
U.S. Nationals: W 1918, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1927
French Nationals: W 1930
U.S. Nationals: W 1913, 1914, 1922, 1923