PDA

View Full Version : how good was Bill Tilden? Is he one of the GOATs?


Young Pete
05-20-2009, 01:03 AM
ne1 wanna comment?

Cody
05-20-2009, 01:57 AM
I wish i could answer properly but i have never seen him play.

I have heard that he was a very adaptable player that could change tactics in an instant.
I heard that he possessed a very fast serve called the cannonball serve.
It was timed at 163 mph but i don't think this could be justified as technology to measure speed and the fact that using a wooden racket to hit that speed makes it pretty doubtful.

I would give nearly anything to see him play. :)

Frank Silbermann
05-20-2009, 03:38 AM
The books and Jack Kramer say he was, so that settles it as far as I'm concerned.

nfor304
05-20-2009, 03:47 AM
Apparently he used to give away the first sets of his matches just to make things interesting for the crowd. He also used to pick up 4 balls with his left hand and then serve 4 aces with each ball as a trick in the middle of some of the more dull matches....

pc1
05-20-2009, 04:43 AM
Bill Tilden is definitely one of the players you would have to consider as a GOAT. The man won probably over 150 tournaments, was the top player in the world for many years and won 10 majors titles in an era in which it was hard to travel overseas. It's very possible if Tilden had the airplane travel we have today that he could have won 20 major titles. I might also add the fact he was very dominant and lost very few matches when he was number one.

I believe he was about 6'2" tall and was very thin and fast. Tilden had excellent footwork and some compare his footwork to a ballet dancer. He had a forehand that some rate as among the greatest and a backhand that was considered excellent. The backhand was not a natural shot for him and he had to work very hard to get a strong offensive backhand, which in particular he worked to develop in the winter of 1919-20 in Rhode Island on one of the few indoor courts in the United States.

Tilden had perhaps the best serve of his time and the best overall groundstrokes. He did not go to the net much and his volley was okay but no great shakes. He was a great student of the game and was always learning and trying to improve. There's a great story in which he learn how to hit his forehand at times like Fred Perry because he felt in certain situations he may need to use that style of forehand. Tilden was in either his late 40's or early 50's at the time.

He actually lost a match by a close score to Pancho Gonzalez 6-4 6-4 (I think that's the right score) when he around his late 40's. That's very impressive considering Gonzalez was at his peak or close to it at the time. Gonzalez by the way defeated Connors and Borg when he was in his 40's.

PERL
05-20-2009, 05:05 AM
I might also add the fact he was very dominant and lost very few matches when he was number one.
I believe he was about 6'2" tall and was very thin and fast. Tilden had excellent footwork and some compare his footwork to a ballet dancer. He had a forehand that some rate as among the greatest and a backhand that was considered excellent. The backhand was not a natural shot for him and he had to work very hard to get a strong offensive backhand, which in particular he worked to develop in the winter of 1919-20 in Rhode Island on one of the few indoor courts in the United State.

Tilden had perhaps the best serve of his time and the best overall groundstrokes. He did not go to the net much and his volley was okay but no great shakes. He was a great student of the game and was always learning and trying to improve. There's a great story in which he learn how to hit his forehand at times like Fred Perry because he felt in certain situations he may need to use that style of forehand. Tilden was in either his late 40's or early 50's at the time.

He actually lost a match by a close score to Pancho Gonzalez 6-4 6-4 (I think that's the right score) when he around his late 40's. That's very impressive considering Gonzalez was at his peak or close to it at the time. Gonzalez by the way defeated Connors and Borg when he was in his 40's.

When Federer started to dominate the game a few years back, it made me think about the legend of Tilden capable of beating every player at his own game.

drakulie
05-20-2009, 05:26 AM
Great enough to consistently do what no modern player can do:

Hit 163 mph serves, and 100+ mph FH's (consistently). :roll:

at least,,,,,, that's what the "experts say". The same "experts" that complain modern technology allows todays players to hit the ball harder than the older generation who had to suffer with wood racquets, and gut strings.

urban
05-20-2009, 05:31 AM
On the clips by Marcos here on TWF Tilden's backhand indeed looks a bit unnatural, when he goes for pace. The slice is nice and easy, but to get pace, he throws around his whole body. Tildens' place in the pantheon of greats is secured. His Oscar Wilde like personality and ambiguity generated a myth around sports writers and public, that still overshadows all who came after him.

MAX PLY
05-20-2009, 06:19 AM
By most any measure, Tilden has to be considered one of the GOATs. Of course, you can only really measure him against how he did in his error. While certainly some of the legends about his serve speed, etc. are likely exaggerated due to the imprecise measuring utilized at the time and the aura of "legend," there is no doubt that he dominated the sport for a long time over good competition. I don't know why the speciousness of some of those legends should indict what he actually accomplished. What must be realized is that while he likely did not hit serves as hard as 163, I suspect he still hit well over 120 or so (plenty of folks playing with wood have and did) and more importantly, he hit it harder than anyone else at the time. Likewise, he continued to play at a very competitive level well into his 40s and 50s, playing excellent tennis against Budge, Gonzales, etc. Certainly those who had some perspective of the game over a long period (e.g., Jack Kramer) felt that Tilden was among the greats. I have little doubt that with modern technology and training, Tilden would still be a great player (although likely not as dominant in the modern game due to the depth of the game and the great "equalizer" that racquet and string technology had become in the game).

380pistol
05-20-2009, 10:28 AM
He certainy must be considered. But like many it has to be taken in context, i.e what would #'s be like if they were translated into the modern era etc.

I don't know where exactly among the greats he is, I've read many conflicting things, from he's the greatest hands down, to how the game hadn't fully developed, and not much depth etc.

But yes he should be one of the considered the greatest.

spt
05-20-2009, 08:18 PM
Apparently he used to give away the first sets of his matches just to make things interesting for the crowd. He also used to pick up 4 balls with his left hand and then serve 4 aces with each ball as a trick in the middle of some of the more dull matches....

The story above on holding four balls and hitting four aces is a little wrong. I heard he could hold 5 balls in one hand, would hit 4 aces and toss the fifth ball into the crowd.

CEvertFan
05-20-2009, 09:02 PM
The story above on holding four balls and hitting four aces is a little wrong. I heard he could hold 5 balls in one hand, would hit 4 aces and toss the fifth ball into the crowd.

He had very large hands from what I've read so it was easy for him to hold that amount of balls in one hand for his "trick".

IMO he was one of the most, if not THE most, knowledgeable players ever regarding the fundamentals of tennis and was always successfully changing things about his game in order to improve and could change tactics during a match if something wasn't working for him better than most players could/can.

I'm sure he didn't hit a 163 mph serve as even the modern players with WAY more powerful racquets can't even reach that speed, but his serve was very powerful for it's time.

The story about him purposely losing sets to keep the match interesting is true. He did it to keep the crowd entertained and to challenge himself to come from behind for the win, which he usually did.

He also had great stamina even though he smoked very heavily and was still quite a formidable player, even into his 50s.

Definitely a legitimate candidate for one of the best ever.

urban
05-20-2009, 09:39 PM
He had very large hands but only 9 and a half fingers. Around 1922 he lost the upper part of his middle finger on his racket hand due to an accident. It seems asthonishing, that he could play so well afterwards. Incidentely, von Cramm lost also a part of a finger on his racket hand, when he was bitten by a horse.

Young Pete
05-21-2009, 12:00 AM
wow i bet tilden could smoke some of the players today!

ahhh the good old days...

Tennis Dunce
05-22-2009, 09:06 AM
He smoked heavily!? LOL:-?

I remember in his book Mac was dumbfounded by Pancho Gonzalez smoking. Something like he could expect anything from a tennis player...but smoking!?

nfor304
05-22-2009, 10:01 PM
On the clips by Marcos here on TWF Tilden's backhand indeed looks a bit unnatural, when he goes for pace. The slice is nice and easy, but to get pace, he throws around his whole body. Tildens' place in the pantheon of greats is secured. His Oscar Wilde like personality and ambiguity generated a myth around sports writers and public, that still overshadows all who came after him.

Do you have a link to that clip? id really like to see that

urban
05-22-2009, 10:40 PM
There are on the section above on this page in the thread 'Check out old greats on clips', Marcos had posted them on posts Nr. 74-78.

hoodjem
05-23-2009, 06:11 AM
Definitely yes. Six years of world domination. 10 slams and he didn't even bother with the Australian. Seven consecutive Davis Cup wins. It took four French guys years to learn how to defeat him.

In 1934 at age 41 he beat then world no. 1 Ellsworth Vines 16 times.

Way up there. Top-5 certainly.

Young Pete
05-24-2009, 02:29 AM
Yes. Six years of world domination. 10 slams and didn't even bother with the Australian. Seven consecutive Davis Cup wins. It took four French guys years to learn how to defeat him.

In 1934 at age 41 he beat then world no. 1 Ellsworth Vines 16 times.

Way up there.

simply amazing!

nfor304
05-27-2009, 05:52 PM
There are on the section above on this page in the thread 'Check out old greats on clips', Marcos had posted them on posts Nr. 74-78.

cheers urban

FedFan_2009
07-27-2009, 10:35 AM
Yup the more I read, it becomes obvious that Tilden is probably the GOAT.

charliefedererer
07-27-2009, 11:18 AM
Because he was the first of the GOATs, he was probably also the last undisputed GOAT.

urban
07-27-2009, 11:39 AM
One cliche i often read, is, that in the twenties was no international depth and no diversity. Certainly, travel conditions made it hard, to play a full international circuit, and after winning Wimbledon and the World (hard) clay court champs in 1921, Tilden remained in the US until 1926and waited to meet all comers at the US champs and the Davis Cup. But here was international competition by good players from Britain, Australians, by French, Spanish (Alonzo), Germans, Italians (de Mopurgo) even Japanese (Shimizu). And to diversity: Frank Deford, who wrote an outstanding biography of Tilden, remarked, that in those forming years of the game, there were many fundamentally different styles to play the shots. Today we see a homogenization of styles, then there were people like Shimizu, who hit their backhands still with the same racket-side as the forehand. Borotra, who came from the Basque game of pelota, played a serve and volley game, which was completely different to the baseline game of Tilden. It was Tilden, who straightened out the shots, who standardized grip techniques towards the Eastern grip, who brought tennis into his modern form, and he was the very first, who was aware of the mental aspects of the game. His books became the scenographic textbooks of tennis for the next 50 years. When John Newcombe won Wimbledon in 1970, he was asked, how he learned tennis. He answered, by reading Tilden's book 'The Art of Tennis' - likewise all other players of the time.

timnz
07-27-2009, 01:00 PM
One cliche i often read, is, that in the twenties was no international depth and no diversity. Certainly, travel conditions made it hard, to play a full international circuit, and after winning Wimbledon and the World (hard) clay court champs in 1922, Tilden remained in the US until 1926and waited to meet all comers at the US champs and the Davis Cup. But here was international competition by good players from Britain, Australians, by French, Spanish (Alonzo), Germans, Italians (de Mopurgo) even Japanese (Shimizu). And to diversity: Frank Deford, who wrote an outstanding biography of Tilden, remarked, that in those forming years of the game, there were many fundamentally different styles to play the shots. Today we see a homogenization of styles, then there were people like Shimizu, who hit their backhands still with the same racket-side as the forehand. Borotra, who came from the Basque game of pelota, played a serve and volley game, which was completely different to the baseline game of Tilden. It was Tilden, who straightened out the shots, who standardized grip techniques towards the Eastern grip, who brought tennis into his modern form, and he was the very first, who was aware of the mental aspects of the game. His books became the scenographic textbooks of tennis for the next 50 years. When John Newcombe won Wimbledon in 1970, he was asked, how he learned tennis. He answered, by reading Tilden's book 'The Art of Tennis' - likewise all other players of the time.

Good points Urban. We take it for granted that there is a 'right way' to hit a backhand, but there was a time when things were being experimented on an emerging. Not to be too picky - but it was 1921 not 1922 for the World Clay courts win.

VGP
07-27-2009, 01:27 PM
His books became the scenographic textbooks of tennis for the next 50 years. When John Newcombe won Wimbledon in 1970, he was asked, how he learned tennis. He answered, by reading Tilden's book 'The Art of Tennis' - likewise all other players of the time.

'The Art of Tennis' is still a good read. I highly recommend it!

timnz
07-27-2009, 04:03 PM
He pushed World number 1 Bobby Riggs to 5 sets when he was 52.

A lot of people have Rosewall as having the most longevity as a player, but seriously Tilden even has it over him.

pc1
07-29-2009, 06:20 AM
Tilden in his forties was able to defeat Ellsworth Vines numerous times on a tour. The tour was competitive despite the fact Tilden was almost twenty years older. Vines won the tour but I don't recall the exact won lost record.

hoodjem
07-29-2009, 10:15 AM
BOEHC--

1900-1950: Tilden
1950-2000: Laver
2000-present: Federer

Borgforever
07-29-2009, 10:42 AM
I don't buy Tilden as king of 1900-1920. His record is distinctly inferior to H. L.'s, easy by miles and miles and miles, and lacked such tough rivals as H. L. had during his peak/prime -- plus that he beat everyone with greater distance plus that H. L. had every antidote to Tilden's weapons.

Tilden was just slightly better than Larned -- according to a great majority of experts who's seen both.

1 - Tilden had a cannonball serve (a fraction faster than Larned's), a super forehand (like Larned) and very good backhand (like Larned). He was a bit stronger than Larned psychologically and tactically but the difference was slight.

2 - Tilden, according to all sources, was weaker than Brookes tactically and Brookes was not as good as H. L. in tactics. So H. L. was a better general than Big Bill.

3 - H. L. would crush Tilden's weak volley, use his super-accurate lobs to capitalize on Tilden's weak overhead and absolutely hammer Big Bill's weaker backhand (similar to Larned's and Fed's -- crumbling under constant consistent accurate barrage).

4 - H. L. was faster and had more anticipation than Tilden and his consistency outmatched Big Bill's by miles. H. L.'s incredible "getting"-skills would prove Tilden's hammer-blows not so effiecent, as many said.

5 - H. L. never made any errors and he could -- according to Wilding, no less, hit very severe as well as accurate on the fly -- just nailing Tilden's hammer-blows with interest for instant winners.

6 - H. L. had no weakness. Tilden had several.

7 - H. L. could master any kind of serve as he did with Brookes' and Larned's with ease -- anyone think Tilden would succeed any better? H. L. was one of the best returners of serve the world has ever seen. Perhaps the greatest.

8 - Both Tilden and Johnston lost sets to a 43 year-old Brookes at Davis Cup when both the former ones were at their peak of their powers and in the twenties.

H. L. straight-setted a muuuuuuuch better Brookes in 1905 when Norman was 28 years old. I could write a novel on this...

cristiano
07-29-2009, 02:16 PM
Interesting.

But so, why do you think almost every ranking by any 'expert' of the time gave Tilden the edge?

c.

Borgforever
07-29-2009, 02:58 PM
I, of course, doesn't pretend to know the answer to your question cristiano.

I have theories though. Myers can't separate them H. L. and Tilden. Fred Alexander, an American -- top three at best, early 10s and met both Tilden and H. L. -- playing style similar to McEnroe but more consistent at the baseline -- was adamant that H. L. would beat Tilden for the reasons I mentioned in my post above, which is proven through the texts and evaluations, witnesses, facts and records that we have.

Myers, who played both H. L. and Tilden and saw pretty much everything they did (including that of Vines, Budge, Perry and the Muskeeters) -- and handicapped by never again seeing H. L. at his best after 1906 -- still couldn't decide. Isn't that telling?

Fred Alexander was totally for H. L. as the greatest.

Tilden had an enormous weakness against super consistent, super-intelligent, resilient and clutch-like players -- such as Lacoste, whom he didn't face during his real peak. But Lacoste slaughtered him.

And the brilliant tactician, "The Magician" Norman Brookes, second only to the incomparable H. L. (arguably his mentor in a way in that skill) was sneaky enough to steal a set from the "so-called" invincible Tilden at his peak -- when he was 43!?

But as time went by -- he dropped in estimation, many had never seen him. Only shaking their heads at "the oldies" "waxing lyrical" like it was some old wives tale Or a Robin Hood myth.

Same story today -- Laver was GOAT, no Borg was, wait a minute McEnroe is, perhaps Lendl, I mean, no, no, no -- SAMPRAS -- no, not so fast, Federer -- but what now? What is Rafa doing...

And so forth. We want our new one, who impresses us on such daily basis to be the best. We don't want our contemporary hero to suck now, would we?

Human nature...

What is remarkable is that H. L. remained at his No. 2 spot for almost very single ranking, except Alexander and Myers (those who actually had extensive experience of both players) who had him as easy No. 1, until 1950. Almost every ranking after them (when it was only hazy hearsay) H. L. was undisputed No. 2.

Ahead of Budge, Vines, Kramer, Musketeers, Pancho -- you name them...

And H. L.'s entire game was built for the purpose of destroying a Tilden-like player. And his rivals and record can concur with that undisputed fact.

Rosewall and Pancho are similarly underrated Apex Tennis Predators

Q&M son
07-29-2009, 03:21 PM
One cliche i often read, is, that in the twenties was no international depth and no diversity. Certainly, travel conditions made it hard, to play a full international circuit, and after winning Wimbledon and the World (hard) clay court champs in 1921, Tilden remained in the US until 1926and waited to meet all comers at the US champs and the Davis Cup. But here was international competition by good players from Britain, Australians, by French, Spanish (Alonzo), Germans, Italians (de Mopurgo) even Japanese (Shimizu). And to diversity: Frank Deford, who wrote an outstanding biography of Tilden, remarked, that in those forming years of the game, there were many fundamentally different styles to play the shots. Today we see a homogenization of styles, then there were people like Shimizu, who hit their backhands still with the same racket-side as the forehand. Borotra, who came from the Basque game of pelota, played a serve and volley game, which was completely different to the baseline game of Tilden. It was Tilden, who straightened out the shots, who standardized grip techniques towards the Eastern grip, who brought tennis into his modern form, and he was the very first, who was aware of the mental aspects of the game. His books became the scenographic textbooks of tennis for the next 50 years. When John Newcombe won Wimbledon in 1970, he was asked, how he learned tennis. He answered, by reading Tilden's book 'The Art of Tennis' - likewise all other players of the time.

Great post urban.

ClarkC
07-29-2009, 07:03 PM
He actually lost a match by a close score to Pancho Gonzalez 6-4 6-4 (I think that's the right score) when he around his late 40's. That's very impressive considering Gonzalez was at his peak or close to it at the time. Gonzalez by the way defeated Connors and Borg when he was in his 40's.

Tilden was born in 1893, and Pancho in 1928. They are 35 years apart in age. I would think that Pancho could not be considered to be "in his prime" before he was 20, so Tilden was 55 or older if and when this match ever happened.

Does anyone have any facts on the supposed match?

darrinbaker00
07-29-2009, 08:17 PM
As far as I'm concerned, what Bill Tilden did to teenage boys negated what he did on the tennis court.

timnz
07-29-2009, 09:06 PM
Tilden was born in 1893, and Pancho in 1928. They are 35 years apart in age. I would think that Pancho could not be considered to be "in his prime" before he was 20, so Tilden was 55 or older if and when this match ever happened.

Does anyone have any facts on the supposed match?

I know they definitely played in 1952 when Tilden was 59 and Gonzales was 24. The score was more one-sided to Gonzales though - 6–1, 6–2. This was on a minor tour. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancho_Gonzales - see Section on Professional Tour Results.

FedFan_2009
07-29-2009, 09:30 PM
As far as I'm concerned, what Bill Tilden did to teenage boys negated what he did on the tennis court.

We're not putting Bill Tilden up for "man of the year", but just evaluating his tennis achievements. It's like judging Michael Jackson's dancing and musical ability based on what happened at Neverland ranch.

pc1
07-30-2009, 09:12 AM
Tilden was born in 1893, and Pancho in 1928. They are 35 years apart in age. I would think that Pancho could not be considered to be "in his prime" before he was 20, so Tilden was 55 or older if and when this match ever happened.

Does anyone have any facts on the supposed match?

timnz is right that the score was 6-1 6-2 but that to me is still pretty good considering the age difference. Joe McCauley had the score in his great book "The History of Professional Tennis" and I believe he got it from one of Pancho's books.

dsa202
07-30-2009, 09:58 AM
Tilden sucked.

Shangri La
07-30-2009, 01:16 PM
I'm saying this with total respect to the old-time greats: after watched some clips, I'm left wondering how can players of that era possibly take a set from current touring pros. Granted they were crippled by wood racquets, still today's level of play is just in a totally different league.

pc1
07-30-2009, 03:59 PM
I'm saying this with total respect to the old-time greats: after watched some clips, I'm left wondering how can players of that era possibly take a set from current touring pros. Granted they were crippled by wood racquets, still today's level of play is just in a totally different league.

Check this video of an old Bill Tilden I believe in the 1930's. I'm reasonably certain it's him versus Hans Nusslein, a great German player of the 1930's and later.

http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=50410

darrinbaker00
07-31-2009, 07:26 AM
We're not putting Bill Tilden up for "man of the year", but just evaluating his tennis achievements. It's like judging Michael Jackson's dancing and musical ability based on what happened at Neverland ranch.
Michael Jackson was tried and found innocent by a jury of his peers. Bill Tilden was tried and found guilty by a jury of his peers. TWICE.

hoodjem
07-31-2009, 07:41 AM
Michael Jackson was tried and found innocent by a jury of his peers. Bill Tilden was tried and found guilty by a jury of his peers. TWICE.
Who cares? Has nothing to do with tennis.

pmerk34
07-31-2009, 08:07 AM
Who cares? Has nothing to do with tennis.

Yes it does. An open homosexual was the face of Tennis for many years as he was the most famous player in the game. Bud Collins made this point on the sports century profile on ESPN. It hurt our sport's image -and rightly so.

I got into playing tennis in 1985 (age 12) after watching McEnroe beat Lendl twice that summer leading up to the US Open. When I joined the jv team in 1986 I was surprised to hear many of my peers tell me I was playing a "***" sport. I was bewildered. Now some of this is of course due to the pictures of men in white vests and long pants with wooden racquets looking like ballet dancers around the court in the 1920's and 30's. I get that. But a lot of it was the legacy of a pedophile who liked teen boys being the biggest name in the sport and making it popular.

You may think it was societies problem. I disagree.

hoodjem
08-03-2009, 05:12 AM
Yes it does. An open homosexual was the face of Tennis for many years as he was the most famous player in the game.


I got into playing tennis in 1985 (age 12) . . . When I joined the jv team in 1986 I was surprised to hear many of my peers tell me I was playing a "***" sport. I was bewildered.

Oh my! The world's best tennis player was . . . er, um, a homosexual. The horror.

You listened to those nimrods? Maybe you should gone out for a "manly sport" like football--no homos there. None!