On February 10, 1893, a boy who was to become the greatest tennis player of all time was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He was William T. ("Big Bill") Tilden.
When he was 6 years old, he found a discarded tennis racket that belonged to his brother, Herbert. Although it was much too heavy for a small boy, he took it for his own and began the game by hitting a worn-out ball against the wall of his parents summer home at Onteora Club in New York. Against this much battered wall young Tilden learned the fundamentals of a forehand that was to spell doom to many a great opponent.
At 7 he won the 15-and-under Junior Boys' championship at Onteora Club. Twelve years later, in 1913, he won his first national championship, the mixed doubles, with Mary K. Browne.
From German town Academy, where Tilden had gone to school, he went to the University of Pennsylvania. But World War 1 put an end to his college career when he joined the Army. While in the service he won his first national men's doubles championship with Vincent Richards. He held this title with Richards three times and with other partners twice.
Tilden did not win the American singles title until he was 27. But in that same year he also won the championship of the world at Wimbledon, England, and repeated the victory the following year. In 1922 and 1923, with Molia Bjurstedt Mallory as his partner, he again won the national mixed doubles. In 1930, 10 years after his first victor at Wimbledon, he will again. This was a remarkable feat for a man of 37. In 1931 he turned professional.
The years from 1920 to 1930 found Tilden supreme in American tennis. He held the singles championship from 1920 through 1925. In 1926 he lost it to Rene Lacoste, the French Davis Cup player, but regained it in 1929. From 1920 to 1930, Tilden was the dominant member of the United States Davis Cup team. He would no doubt have remained so for some time he did not become a professional.
The greatness of his game lay in his command of every stroke and his complete knowledge of tennis strategy. These qualities were aided by his height, 6 feel, 1 inch, and his usually fine physical condition. On June 5, 1953, on the eve of his scheduled departure for a professional tournament, Bill Tilden died in Hollywood, California. No one has left a greater legacy to tennis.