While Bill Tilden and I were usually at odds,” says the author, George Lott, I gained a very healthy respect for him on the court—more so than for anyone else I ever played or saw.” Grant Golden, a tennis player who has been exposed to world-class tennis from time to time, asked me if Bill Tilden “could actually do all the things they said he could.”
When I assured him that he certainly could, I wasn’t exactly contradicted, but I was viewed with a jaundiced eye and a shake of the head, along with mutterings about Budge, Kramer, and Gonzales. I have a lot of admiration for all the champions, past and present. While Tilden and I were usually at an incompatible level, I gained a very healthy respect for him on the court—more so than for anyone else I ever played with or saw.
My first experience with Bill came early in life. My parents took me to Boston to play in the National Boys’ Championships. Anyone who has played in this event knows it is the biggest thrill in a youngster’s life. I was beaten in the semi-finals by a boy named Sagalowsky from Indianapolis. That was a big loss, and my dream was shattered.
It was shattered even more when Bill Tilden announced to one and all that Lott would never be a tennis player, what with his Western grips and lack of match-play temperament. Naturally, this endeared Tilden to me considerably, an endearment that lasted throughout my tennis career. To encourage others to observe and evaluate Tilden’s tennis game based on facts and observations rather than personal preferences, I bring up this incident.
Greatest Asset: Tilden’s greatest asset was his ability to produce one big shot whenever he needed it. As far as he was concerned, he made the point. He had a lot of “ham” in him, and many times he created situations so he could pull out the big shot to the oh’s and ah’s of the crowd. Only once did he fail at this scene setting. He had an art of his own.
At Wimbledon, Cochet won two sets to one and toyed with the Frenchman. Bill Tilden knew King Alfonso of Spain was due to appear in the Royal Box. He decided to fool him around until His Majesty arrived. After all, Tilden reasoned, there was no better place to display his skills than Wimbledon’s Center Court. He was on stage, and royalty saw him perform.
King arrived during the fourth set to watch Bill Tilden lose in the fifth. Cochet caught fire, and Tilden lost his touch. This was the only time Bill Tilden set the scene for himself to star and could not take the winner’s bow. After doing it many times before, he always regained his concentration and touch.
By Royal Courtesy! Or once, I played Bill Tilden in the final of a Florida tournament. He beat me many times before. By now, I had learned that the most effective way to get along with him was to be agreeable and do nothing to irritate him.
In this final match, we were on friendly terms, and he didn’t turn on the heat. I reached the match point. I knew that Tilden and I’d ‘both agreed that he would win this point and win the match. This may seem like a weak attitude on the part of any opponent who reaches match point, but Tilden was so dominant and had so many answers to every situation that you realized you had made it to match point only by royal courtesy, and any further privileges would now be withdrawn.
I knew this, but I served, advanced to the net, and made a midcourt volley. Make sure you tilt the ball into the net. The court had been re-lined during the second and third sets, and Bill had slipped on the line as he was about to hit the ball. This was the first time I beat Bill while on Cloud Nine. I completely forgot about slipping him the needle a few times. keeping on his positive side. In fact, what a mistake!
Treat Like a Neophyte: The next week at Augusta, we met again in the final. The reporters gave me a lot of hazy information, and I must admit I believed some of it. With the newsreels on hand, I was given a luxury lesson in the shortest match on record. And I played just as well as the week before! Furthermore, I was the third-ranked player in the country and treated like a neophyte. I played two more matches against Tilden that year.
On the National Clay Courts, I reached the final through wins over Manuel Alonso, B. I. C. Norton, and Howard Kinsey. When I got into the fifth round against Tilden, the game score was 15-30 on Tilden’s service, and it was a 5-4 game. I hit a forehand as hard as I could.
It landed in the Bill Tilden backhand corner, about a foot from the sideline and the baseline. I was on my way to the computer when I saw a white blur go past me. When the shock passed, I realized he had hit a half-volley drive from the baseline to pass me cleanly. This is the equivalent of being in a fight, knocking your opponent with your Sunday punch, and having him look at you.
Left flat-footed! The other shot he made against me occurred at the Southampton Invitational. I beat Lacoste to reach the final and played very judicious tennis. This match was played at 5-all in the first set and 30-all on my service. We had a back-court exchange, and I advanced to the net on a forehand to Bill’s side of the net. I anticipated his down-the-line return and angled crosscourt very sharply to his backhand side, thinking I had the big stiff this time.
It turned out that I was anticipatory on the hit his forehand—he was off to wasn’t the only court. As soon as the line was handed down, it was his backhand side. In the meantime (11⁄2 of one second), I had moved down the line, leaving the small across-to-backhand cover opening for him to hit a crosscourt backhand if he reached the ball. You guessed it. He reached for the ball on the full run and hit it crosscourt, threading the needle. I stood there flat-footed, talking to myself and everyone who would listen.
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It was shattered even more when Bill Tilden announced to one and all that Lott would never be a tennis player, what with his Western grips and lack of match-play temperament.
It was shattered even more when Bill Tilden announced to one and all that Lott would never be a tennis player, what with his Western grips and lack of match-play temperament.
(Courtesy: World Tennis)

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