Bill Tilden

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William Tatem Tilden II (1893–1953), often called "Big Bill", was an American tennis player and boylover who was the World No. 1 player for 7 years, the last time when he was 38 years old.

Life and career

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in February 10, 1893, to a wealthy family, Tilden lost his semi-invalid mother when he was 15 and, even though his father was still alive and maintained a large house staffed with servants, was sent a few houses away to live with a maiden aunt.

For approximately 35 years, from about 1920 to 1955, Tilden was generally considered the greatest player who had ever lived, his only rivals being Vines and Budge. Among his many achievements, he won the United States amateur championship 6 times in succession and 7 times altogether. And from 1920 through 1926 he led the United States team to 7 consecutive Davis Cup victories, a record that is still unequaled.

Apart from his career as a player, also wrote several forgettable novels, as well as some very successful tennis books, most notably The Art of Lawn Tennis (1922), Match Play and the Spin of the Ball (1925), and How to Play Better Tennis (1950).


Tilden's homosexuality and particular preference for underage boys was an open secret in the tennis world of his day. He often traveled the circuit with adolescent ball boys and attempted to create a a father-son relationship with a long succession of boys and youthful tennis protégés, of whom Vinnie Richards was the most noted.

Tilden had no sexual relationships with women at all and apparently very few sexual encounters with members of his own sex until he was well into his 40s. His relationships with ball boys and his students were probably not sexual as Tilden preferred the company of teenage boy prostitutes he could afford.

This behavior led to a couple of arrests. Tilden was first arrested on Nov. 23, 1946 on Sunset Boulevard when he was caught placing his hand in a teenage boy's pants (the boy was a prostitute whose services Tilden had solicited). He was charged only with a misdemeanor and sentenced to a year in prison and served 7 1/2 months. He was arrested again on Jan. 28, 1949, after picking up a 16-year-old hitchhiker and making advances. For this incident he served 10 months of probation.

After being released, Tilden found himself even more shunned. More tennis clubs wouldn't let him teach and fewer students came his way on public courts.

He died of coronary thrombosis at the age of sixty on June 5, 1953. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1959.

Further reading

External links